by Ben Arzate
After an intense rehearsal, a French dance troupe throws a party to relax and unwind, enjoying the sangria that the choreographer leading the troupe made for them. However, they soon discover that the sangria has been spiked with LSD. Trapped in their rehearsal hall in the dead of winter, they try to figure out who is responsible for drugging them as their highs cause them to act more and more violent and erratic.
Gaspar Noe is known as a unique, but polarizing director. Many praise him for his unflinching and confrontational style while others dismiss him as a puerile nihilist for his dark and disturbing stories. It’s no wonder one of the first English posters for this film was a message from Noe saying, “You despised I Stand Alone, you hated Irréversible, you loathed Enter the Void, you cursed Love, now try Climax.”
When I went to see it, there were only two other people in the theater. I think it’s safe to say the film is effective. By the end of it, the other two were crying, and, as much as I admire the film, I was glad it was over.
One thing I was surprised to learn is that almost all the actors are dancers with no previous acting experience. The movie spends a good amount of time establishing the numerous characters both through their audition tapes, their masterfully filmed dance scenes, and their dialogue. All of them give excellent performances. Especially when the shit hits the fan and they drink the dosed sangria. Their freak outs are disturbingly convincing.
Many other staples of Noe’s films are here, including his unusual cinematography, use of title cards, and use of audio to disorient the audience. Half the film is one long shot and by the climax the film is almost entirely upside down. It’s like a waking nightmare. Noe manages to take upbeat Eurodance music, including from Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk, and make it extremely terrifying. The second half of the film is filled with screaming and moaning as the dancers’ conditions get worse and worse.
While there is a mystery aspect to it, the dancers trying to figure out who was responsible for drugging them, it’s somewhat in the background as they try to deal with their own freak outs. Instead, a big focus is on the psychological aspect of how each of them handle the LSD high. Some engage in self-destruction, others lash out at the other dancers, but a few come out having confronted the deep feelings they couldn’t handle before.
For example, one dancer’s signature is to twist himself beyond what most people can. After he’s drugged, he starts pushing himself harder and harder to twist himself into even more unnatural positions. Eventually, he breaks bones doing this. The LSD pushed him to further his art as a dancer until he was beyond human limits. Another is a brother-sister duo forced to confront the incestuous feelings they have for each other.
Climax is an intense experience. It goes without saying it’s not for the faint of heart, but it shows Noe is still one of the most unique, powerful, and confrontational directors working today. I especially recommend seeing this one in the theater if you can.