French filmmaker Gaspar Noé is no stranger to controversy. His 2002 movie Irreversible, starring Monica Bellucci, is famous for its brutal depiction of the rape of the lead character. Additionally, Noé was criticized for the film also being homophobic, something he vehemently denied.
“Climax” (A24), Noé’s unconventional latest, probably won’t win him any GLAAD awards either. Nothing about the movie conforms to expectations. End credits roll at the beginning, whereas the opening credits are seen 45 minutes into the picture. Pretentious statement cards appear (including one upside down) out of nowhere. The performances by the mostly inexperienced and young cast gives the proceedings a feeling of awkward improvisation.
Set in the mid-1990s, on the grounds of a Catholic school, “Climax” is about a talented group of dancers who have been brought together to rehearse and perform as troupe with the promise of trip to New York. After the opening shot of a woman, covered in blood collapsing in the snow, we are shown videotaped interviews with each of the straight and gay, black and white dancers, most of whom are French, talking about what dancing means to them and how they are willing to do anything to be chosen.
The opening dance number, a breakdancing and voguing-inspired sequence, filmed in one long shot, is dazzling. If there’s one thing these performers can do, it’s dance. They put their bodies through a series of contortions and gyrations that are almost beyond belief, fittingly to Cerrone’s `70s disco classic “Supernature” (co-written by Lene Lovich).
At a party given as a reward for three days of exhausting rehearsals, the dancers, including the popular choreographer Selva (Sofia Boutella) relax, mingle, and flirt. Through their conversations, we get to know them better, find out what’s on their minds (hint: it’s sex). Den-mother Emmanuelle (trans actress Claude Gajan Maull) even prepared sangria for the dancers to drink, which they do liberally (with the exception of a few). Unbeknownst to them, however, the punch bowl has been spiked with LSD.
Before you can say “9th circle of hell”, the drug kicks in and its “Lord of the Flies” meets “Fame”. Good-natured Omar (Adrien Sissoko), who didn’t partake in the punch, is banished to the snow-covered landscape where he freezes to death. In an effort to keep him safe, Emmanuelle locks her young son Tito (Vince Galliot Cumant) in an electrical closet, but that doesn’t work out so well. Lesbian couple Psyche (Thea Carla Schott) and Ivana (Sharleen Temple) argue and then Ivana goes off and seduces Selva. The young queen in the group, who is hot for stud David (Romain Guillermic), is rebuffed and seeks comfort in the arms of DJ Daddy (Kiddy Smile). Brother and sister Taylor (Taylor Kastle) and Gazelle (Giselle Palmer) take an unexpected detour down an incestuous path. Secretly pregnant Lou (Souheila Yacoub), who didn’t have anything to drink, is kicked in the gut by a distrustful troupe member who is convinced she is behind the spiking, then takes a knife and slashes her own flesh. The resident cokehead catches fire, and so on.
To say that “Climax” will appeal to a very specialized audience is an understatement. At least 20 minutes too long, “Climax” is nevertheless worth seeing simply for the mind-blowing dance numbers.
Check out the official trailer