“When you do things either it works or it doesn’t.”
Climax curiously starts at the end with a disturbing, soulless laugh and a few audible pleas for help before rewinding the tape. A modern take on the late composer Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 3” – a personal favorite I happily stumbled upon more than a decade ago and the final composition of his three-piece movement – plays as the camera looms overhead, and just before the credits precariously speed across the screen like a movie on cable TV desperately trying to avoid a commercial break. This picture has places to go and people to accost. Climax uses dance as dialogue and it isn’t afraid to punch you right in the face to make its point; you might not like the film, yet there’s no denying that you’ll feel some way about it one way or another. In that regard the picture not only dances along with the devil, but practically summons the serpent’s fatal bite, chiding a rattlesnake into providing the story’s beat and tune. It’s easily the most unwelcoming and terrifying horror show I’ve seen so far this year. Climax practically dares us to look away, and it’s a task that proves to be nearly impossible.
The curtains briefly close before the holy playground dance floor opens up to its sharp crew of uniquely written characters, and the sacred safe space eventually becomes one fueled by krumping and sex and hedonism. The opening sequence, a 5 minute long and unbroken routine comes after the many members of this dissimilar dance collective present themselves via recorded audition tapes on an old box set TV. To the left of the screen are books: “Suicide, mode d’emploi,” Luis Buñuel’s “My Last Sigh,” and a collection from Nietzche stand out. To the right is a stack of films: Salò, Harakiri, and writer/director Gaspar Noé’s own 2002 picture Irreversible caught my eye. The wide-ranging introductions are integral to the rebellious form, and further proves that this intentionally filthy movie desperately aims to deliver feverish feelings with enigmatic, scintillating shock value ambitions. The obscenity and the immorality of those works are characters in and of themselves, and the art inspires these people to chase their tired passions, as well as authorizing their craven desires to be capable of the indefensible.
Perhaps the most important title we see in that early sequence is Dario Argento’s 1977 film Suspiria, and Noé holds nothing back as he similarly interprets dance as an art form capable of hypnotic mysticism and unconscious, incoherent expression the faster that the rhythm beats and the more that we get caught up by the simple spell of a thumping track. There isn’t much plot to Climax either. The dancers seem friendly, they perform in unison, and then unwind after practice by flirting and peacocking about the room and unknowingly sipping the LSD spiked bowl of Sangria. The film borrows from classic “whodunnits” in that respect, clumsily searching for the culprit, only in an intoxicated and overdosed setting. Like somebody who successfully takes 5 shots in the span of 5 minutes, the whole troupe seems to briefly glide along on cloud nine only until the effects set in and they collectively lose their shit. Madness ensues.
If you have ever been the backseat passenger on a jetski, you should already know that no matter how far the vessel leans left or right, the most important thing is to stay centered. Climax is in the driver seat, we are clinging on for dear life, and the absolute provocative nature of the film – from its incredible uncut long takes, to the increasingly flushed red wine color palette, to the challenging choreography and camerawork from Benoît Debie – intentionally tries to throw us overboard into the salacious seas of sin. Whereas a movie like Suspiria (in both drastically different versions) holds underlying principles guided by a coven, Climax is a film governed by country. By disjointed ideologies, by class warfare, by different people dancing to the beat of their own drums while in the midst of a larger, more homogeneous routine. There’s a reason a giant, inescapable, sheeny French flag drapes the wall behind the DJ table. Their competing moves combat fascist ideologies, or as the famed John Waters might describe it “the pornography of power.” Climax is spellbinding, it’s illogical, and it’s the kind of daring, obscene cinema we need in a time where so many films feel way too damn safe.
“Dancing’s everything to me.”
Rating: 4 out of 5