Climax just came out in the UK and uh, yeah. It’s a lot. A whole lot. Supposedly based on a true story from the nineties when a rehearsing group of dancers found the punch bowl in their wrap party spiked with something much stronger than the alcohol they were expecting. As you would expect it makes things better for a while. Then worse. Much worse.
It’s an unpleasant film, though that certainly seems to be its intent. The decent into hell that we witness made all the more stark by the alluring nature of this striking and beautiful opening dance number and a series of drunken discussions between the revellers that are revealing. They talk about talent and fame, a lot about sex. They are by turns unguarded and posturing, all trying to figure out where they sit in this company’s social hierarchy. Gossip abounds.
It is quite hard not to fall in love with them, or at least not pick out your favourites. The sly reliance on inference allowing you to quietly pick apart the loveable assholes from the genuine ones. While we generally settle into following two main leads: Sofia Boutella’s Selva, who realises early on that things have started to go all to fuck and tries hazily to keep the situation under control; and Romain Guillermic’s David, who figures the same but instead attempts to make the situation work out to his own end – there’s enough purpose and intent established throughout all the background players that you find yourself scouring the images for their fates.
The determination of its focus makes it impossible to look away from. As is his want, Noé directs cinematographer Benoît Debie’s camera through a procession of dizzying and harrowing long takes that move through the confines of the disused school gym that has been temporarily converted to a joint work and living space. The intensity and brutality that can spike as a outletting of the collective hysteria that grips the pack thrown into relief by the nervy moments stretched out as people make their unsteady way from one end of the building to the other, unknowing of what new situation they will arrive into.
There’s something here about that intersection of personal and private space. The horrors that can enfold us given the dissolution of those boundaries. Like the abusive workplace that coerces its employees into unpaid overtime under the guise of familiarity, or the intrusive presence of capital into our online identities. As our data selves have been forced into becoming something privately owned, that can be transmitted and sold without our consent what horrors have we been gradually and unknowingly opened up to? Are our lives already out of our own hands?
It’s not to say that these characters’ experience is solely an unpleasant one. There’s a fine amount of people who seem to be blithely enjoying themselves. The conception of this as a dance movie obviously stems from an immense love of the human body, even as we descend the needs that are expressed are painfully human. Compassion, connection, desire, safety. Both queer and straight longing on the screen, and as often as it can lead to pain, it sometimes also ends up in release.
Like, this is unequivocally a bad thing that is going on, yet the film ends on a note of stillness, of peace. Sure, it’s proceeded by a fill screen title proclaiming death to be the ultimate release (or something to that effect) but it also understands the transformative effect of being outside oneself for a while. Even if the experience is unpleasant, has some very bad effects, and leaves you feeling physically sick.
So hey, basically a metaphor for one of his movies then. There’s another big title card at the beginning, proclaiming this to be ‘A French Movie and Proud of it.’ It won the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes so I’m guessing the country must be pretty proud of it too – basically a first for the man who has made a career on being despised by the right sort of people. Whatever it has to say about France may be clearer to them, the whole thing thrums with a course underlying understanding of the limits of humanity’s basest impulses.
What it finds there ain’t pretty of course. It is an assault. Abusive both textually and aesthetically. Muddled and loud and wilding the fuck out. Yeah, there’s always an audience for that.
If you like your cinema to be the equivalent of a punch to the gut, I’ll assure you there’s nobody who hits harder.
Climax is currently screening in UK cinemas.