Gaspar Noé, the Argentine director who’s built a career as a cheerful provocateur in France, famously sent some audience members racing for the exits with the brutal violence of his 2002 Cannes competition entry Irréversible. In 2015, he brought full frontal, no-holds-barred sex in three unblinking dimensions to the Croisette with Love. Now he’s back with the bluntly titled Climax, premiering in this year’s Directors’ Fortnight. And the critics are telling us it’s a blast.
Set in the 1990s, Climax introduces a dance troupe led by choreographer Selva (Sofia Boutella) via video interviews played on a television set between stacks of books and VHS tapes that will set the tone: Salò, Hara Kiri, Suspiria, Possession, Querelle. The troupe’s routine features “a stunning mash-up of period perfect artists like Aphex Twins and Daft Punk,” notes Ioncinema’s Nicholas Bell, adding that “Noé takes inspiration from the drag ball scene to capture a pulse-pounding opening number which evokes equal parts dance club and bathhouse.”
The sequences most impressing the critics, though, are those that capture the party afterwards—the sangria’s been spiked with an unnamed hallucinogen. Lawrence Garcia, writing for the Notebook, picks it up from there. “What follows is perhaps the single most electric experience of the festival thus far, a deliriously, dizzyingly choreographed dance sequence—aggressive and liberated, all the more so for the sexual fluidity of the dancers themselves. . . . All the while, Benoît Debie’s camera moves across decrepit hallways and dimly lit rooms as if possessed, drunk and drugged out, a direct channel for alternately blissful, hellish sensation.”
For Giovanni Marchini Camia at the Film Stage, Climax “has all the in-your-face trademarks of the Noé brand, but here they’re packaged in a compact, expertly crafted horror flick that transcends its puerility to achieve something altogether sublime.”
Not everyone’s won over. At the Playlist, Jessica Kiang finds that Climax is “exhaustingly exhibitionist cinema that wants to be looked at for the sake of being looked at—for the crispness of its moves, not the complexity of its concepts, and that can get wearying after a while.” Adam Woodward at Little White Lies wishes Noé had spent more time “fleshing out his characters.” He finds it “hard to actually care about the grisly fate that befalls them.”
Still, the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin assures us that there’s “nothing as grueling here as there was in Irreversible, nor anything as explicit as Love, though the film hardly disappoints on either front . . . Noé has created a churning, repellent, wildly sexy tanztheaterwerk of pure Boschian decadence and derangement. It’s nice to have him back.”
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 4/5), Martyn Conterio (CineVue, 4/5), Ben Croll (TheWrap), A. A. Dowd (A.V. Club, A-), Owen Gleiberman (Variety), Ben Kenigsberg (RogerEbert.com), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, A-), Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter), and Jonathan Romney (Screen).
Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. reports that A24 has picked up domestic rights.
Updates, 5/27: At the House Next Door, Sam C. Mac argues that Climax lacks “the skill, imagination, and intelligence to develop concepts and conceits, to connect them with ideas that could keep the director's vision from wearing itself out.”
At Filmmaker, Blake Williams comes close to agreeing, but on the other hand: “When it’s really going, though, this is a rapturous, euphoric film, sitting somewhere between peak Philippe Grandrieux, the Step Up franchise (though not the 3D ones, to my chagrin), and, well, every other Gaspar Noé picture.”
For the Village Voice’s Bilge Ebiri, this film “depicting the initial glory and eventual destruction of an inclusive, exuberant community that may or may not represent the dream of a vibrant, multicultural France” feels “like a formal paradox: both wildly spontaneous and yet impeccably controlled.”
Kyle Buchanan interviews Noé for Vulture.
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