Tuesday, 4 September 2018

NZIFF 2018 Diary: Climax

A newly assembled dance troupe hold a party. Someone spikes the punch and the group proceeds to fall apart.


I should get my lack of credentials out of the way: I have never seen a Gaspar Noe movie before. After watching Climax, I really want to check out at least one or two more of his movies.

Played out in the claustrophobic confines of a dance studio, Climax does not have much plot, and it does not need it. This is a movie about sensation, agitation and intense emotional provocation. It is also a middle finger to people who do not like Gaspar Noe movies.

While it is hard to say whether the movie is 'about anything' beyond the breakdown in a group of people, the movie's singular focus does give the movie an intensity and a sense of pace that really pulls you in. I saw this movie pretty late at night, this movie is so immersive and hi-energy that by the time it was over, I was pumped up.

It helps that this movie is based around a dance troupe - particularly in the first half, as our 'heroes' gyrate around the screen. Noe uses a lot of long takes and wide shots that create a sense of distance between the camera and the characters, which also works for the opening dance number. So many musicals and music videos post-MTV chop up their choreography so you cannot follow the action, but here most of the dancing plays out in extended wide angle shots from a high angle. It is awesome.
What I found interesting about this movie was how people react (or don't) to the drugs. It becomes a catalyst for certain characters to give in to their worst impulses (the siblings) while others do not. I was expecting the young guys who talk about women in the most misogynistic way possible to turn into monsters, but they don't. There is a terrifying randomness to how the characters fall apart that adds to the movie's sense of pace.
Even the characters who try to do something about the situation (like the mother who tries to protect her son by locking him away) end up messing up (she loses the key to unlock the door).
There is no real 'main' character, but the closest to it is Sofia Boutella as the leader of the troupe. She really runs the gamut here - she is great in the opening dance number, throwing in some great acrobatic moves that she later calls back in her 'breakdown' scene towards the end of the movie. This is one of my favourite scenes of the year: Boutella's meltdown takes the form of a ridiculous dance - pelvis thrusting to the sky as she spider-walks and screams down a hallway, before frightening herself in a mirror. It is hilarious.
While I have no previous experience with Noe's oeuvre, it is easy to see the movie (at least partly) as an exercise in trolling for his critics. There is a sequence where the camera and the subtitles are flipped upside down - it was one of the biggest laughs at my screening. There is also a sequence midway through the movie which is just a montage of his name in different fonts.
There are a only a few moments where Noe's reputation felt realised in the movie. The most obvious is scene in which a pregnant woman is kicked repeatedly in the stomach, while the camera looms over her screaming face.
I have read some reviews that felt Climax was less provocative than Gaspar Noe's past work, which makes me wonder if I am just on-board with under-powered Noe than prime Noe. Regardless of where it sits in the broader body of his work, on its own terms Climax is a pure, visceral, utterly cinematic experience that is worth seeing at least once, and ended up being my favourite film of the festival this year.
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