(Winner of the Art Cinema Award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival) Written, directed, and co-edited by Gaspar Noe, Climax is the story of a dance troupe who hold a party following days of rehearsal as the party becomes chaotic due to a bowl of sangria laced with LSD. The film is a whimsical horror film set inside an abandoned building in 1996 where this dance troupe deal with the images of what they see as well as their reaction towards what they had taken. Starring Sophia Boutella, Kiddy Smile, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Claude Gajan Maull, Giselle Palmer, Taylor Kastle, and Thea Carla Schott. Climax is a rapturous yet terrifying film from Gaspar Noe.
Based on a real-life event in the 1990s where a dance troupe had an after-party where they all unknowingly drank sangria spiked with LSD, the film is about an event where this dance troupe are in a building having a party following a successful rehearsal where things do go wrong following their reaction over what they had drank. That is pretty much what the film is about as Gaspar Noe doesn’t aim for a traditional structure as the film opens with someone crawling out of the building into the snow bleeding and screaming as it then cuts to a bunch of dancers talking and showing who they are from an old VHS tape. Then the first half begins with the dancers doing their routine and finishing it leading to this party where everyone dances and talks to each other while they’re drinking sangria unaware that it’s laced with LSD. The second half is about its effects and all of the chaos that happens throughout as there’s not much plot that goes on where Noe just leave everything happening as it is which gives the story a sense of looseness.
Noe’s direction is definitely stylish as it is shot largely on location in an abandoned school in Paris in the span of 15 days where he utilizes a lot of long takes and intricate tracking shots. The film’s opening dance number is shot in the span of 12 minutes with five minutes of it in a single static wide-medium shot as it showcases the attention to detail in the dancing. With the help of choreographer Nina McNeely, Noe would know when to move the camera to capture the dancing whether it would be in a wide shot or in a medium shot as well as one moment where a dancer gets to have their moment as it is shot from above with the camera only spinning around to capture the dancing. It is among these moments in the first half of the film that also include these little moments and small conversations between some of the dancers that add to the sense of chaos into the film as it does feel energetic and lively.
During a scene where everyone is dancing in the middle of the film, credits appear for the cast and creators of the film as if one part of the film is over as it leads to the second half where things get darker. Notably as the camera movement gets more jarring and stylized where it follows everyone as they all get under the influence of what they have drunk with a few who haven’t drank the sangria becoming the suspects. Yet, Noe would keep things unbroken for a long time with some invisible cutting that he and co-editor Denis Bedlow would do to keep things on-going as it adds to this air of disarray. Even as there’s elements of violence where Noe and Bedlow would create some edits that are intense while continuing to be an unbroken shot while there are also elements that are shocking. The film’s finale is a somber one as it play into all of those involved but also some revelations about those who survived or those who had a bad trip. Overall, Noe crafts a gripping and unsettling film about a party that goes to hell because of spiked sangria.
Cinematographer Benoit Debie does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on colorful lighting as well as using low-key and available lighting in which much of the film is shot inside the building where he maintains a mood for scenes whether they’re dramatic or horrifying. Production designer Jean Rabasse, with set decorator Jessy Kupperman and art director Philippe Prat, does amazing work with the look of the dance hall in the building as well as the hallway and some of the rooms the characters go to dance or to act out in their drugged state. Costume designer Frederic Cambier does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largely casual with some style to represent many of the individuals involved in the film.
The visual effects work of Alexis Baillia, Rodolphe Chabrier, and Mac Guff Line do excellent work with the visual effects as it is largely set-dressing to create the invisible cuts for some of the long tracking shots. Sound editor Ken Yasumoto does superb work with the sound in the way music is heard from the speakers from afar or up close as well as how the dialogues are mixed as it is a highlight of the film. Music supervisors Steve Bouyer and Pascal Mayer create an incredible music soundtrack that features a wide mix of music from M/A/R/R/S, Gary Numan, Chris Carter, Marc Cerrone, Patrick Hernandez, Lil’ Louis, Dopplereffekt, Kiddy Smile with Crookers, Thomas Bangalter, Neon, Suburban Knights, Daft Punk, Aphex Twin, Soft Cell, Wild Planet, Cosey Fanni Tutti and CoH, and an instrumental version of the Rolling Stones’ Angie.
The film’s wonderful ensemble cast largely feature mostly non-actors and real-life dancers with the exception of a few professional actors. Among the people in the film include Sarah Belala as the dancer Jennifer who often does cocaine and refuses to share it, Alexandre Moreau as crunk-dancer known as Cyborg, Vince Galliot Cumant as a young boy named Tito who is the son of a dancer in Emmanuelle, Claude Gajan Maull as the dancer Emmanuelle who is also the troupe manager that is accused of spiking the sangria, Adrien Sissoko as a teetotaler in Omar who gets accused of spiking the sangria, Lea Vlamos as Eva who deals with the chaos of the violence as it relates to someone who didn’t drink the sangria, Mounia Nassangar as the volatile Dom who would act violently towards someone due to the spiked sangria, Thea Carla Schott as the German dancer Psyche who would act erratic due to the spiked sangria, Giselle Palmer and Taylor Kastle in their respective roles as the siblings Gazelle and Taylor, Sharleen Temple as Ivana who sports an afro of sorts as she is troubled by the spiked sangria, and Kiddy Smile as the dee-jay Daddy who would also drink the sangria unaware of its effects.
Romain Guillermic is excellent as David as a boyfriend of Gazelle who is eager to have sex with anyone while also becomes a suspect. Souheila Yacoub is brilliant as Lou as a dancer who didn’t drink the sangria as she is in the early stages of her pregnancy which also makes her a suspect. Finally, there’s Sofia Boutella in an incredible performance as Selva as one of the lead dancers who also drinks the sangria as she deals with a lot of things while also expressing herself physically as it is definitely a top-tier performance from Boutella.
Climax is a spectacular film from Gaspar Noe. Featuring a great ensemble cast, a killer music soundtrack, dazzling visuals, and its unconventional take of a simple premise and turning it on its head. It is a film that might be Noe’s most accessible film in terms of playing with a genre yet it also this air of danger and provocation that Noe is known. In the end, Climax is a tremendous film from Gaspar Noe.
Gaspar Noe Films: Carne - I Stand Alone - Irreversible - Enter the Void - Love (2015 film) - (Lux Aeterna) – Vortex (2021 film) – The Auteurs #48: Gaspar Noe
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