Reporting from Montreal's festival du nouveau cinema.
Gaspar Noé’s’s latest, Climax, measures up to some of his best thrills and is certainly better than the last of his films I have seen, Enter the Void (2009). He has only made five features and I have only missed one, Love (2015). But whether Climax is better than Irréversible (2002) or I Stand Alone (1998) I think not. And there’s a major problem with it. Like Enter the Void, it starts off with lots of commotion, color and loads of energy but this soon gets repetitive. In the film, we meet a group of dancers practicing in a rented hall. They are extremely good and apparently tireless. But how much dancing can we – and they – take? Finally, it’s break time, and we see that a party has been prepared. There’s a table with drinks, including inviting sangria. All this – including perhaps 20 minutes of quick-cut viciously gossipy conversations among the various dancers – takes almost half the film’s length. I even started to get bored - this is all, this is it? Then, and only then, we realize someone has spiked the punch. Those who consumed the liquor start to experience weird effects. The story is based on a real-life episode though Noé took some liberties. LSD had been dropped in the bowl. Some of the dancers begin to get deranged. Is this what LSD does, can’t it provide good trips as well? These people seem to be spiraling downhill as if arsenic had been injected. Fights break out, some of the characters, like the lead, Sofia Boutella (Selva) look like they're losing their minds or have entered some dystopian hell. One dancer starts cutting herself and a troupe mate kicks her in her pregnant stomach. The troupe’s leader, Emmanuelle (Claude Gajan Maull), who prepared the drink but denies spiking it, locks her young son in an electrical closet to prevent him from being exposed to the mayhem; she loses the key and we hear his shrieks, perhaps being clawed over by a rat. Now, this is the kind of terror we’ve come to expect from Noé and in a way he doesn’t disappoint. Depravity in all its human misery is on display. At one point a text message crosses the screen, saying collective life is impossible. Thus, continues Noé’s theme: deep down humans are incapable of love and, given half a chance, descend to animals. What audiences find thrilling in his movies is the frenzy by which it’s depicted. There are also a couple of typically unconventional technical touches. The movie’s end credits are plastered on the screen at the movie's beginning. And midway through – just before the plot's human damage kicks in - there are gigantic acting and directing credits in all manner of celebratory fonts. Ironic? Yeah, probably.