13 May 2019| Comments Off on Climax     by Sean Chavel


There will be more “important movies” or “sensibly humanist movies” to come out in 2019, but none will take us vicariously into the extreme depths of depravity like Gaspar Noe’s “Climax” (French with English subtitles). It takes us to a dance hall rehearsal for youthful professionals, and every limb propulsion or torso gyration comes off more than dance, it’s erotic ritual. The dancers start drinking during their social break, and Noe glides his camera around in one take, and what he picks up on the fly is a exhibit of naked confessions, statements of erotic longings, invasive gossip and nasty sex talk. Anybody could be hooking up with anybody within their social circle. I don’t believe it’s a stretch to say dance is the foreplay and alcohol is the fuel (or the excuse) for them to get down and dirty. They keep refilling the Sangria that has been made by their troupe’s leader, Emmanuelle (Claude Gajan Maull), who has a young son who likes to hang out with the grown-ups, and also, gulp, doesn’t know not to copy what some grown-ups do.

“Climax” says it’s based on a real incident that happened in the France winter of 1996, making it the first time Noe has dramatized a piece of non-fiction. Usually his fiction has dealt, or wallowed, in sex and death, self-abasement and depravity (“Irreversible,” “Enter the Void”), or simply with the despair of a violator or murderer who has sunk so low there’s no way out (his debut “I Stand Alone”). I think it’s too hard to say how much of “Climax” is actually true and where he took dramatic license. But in short what happens is the party drink has been spiked with LSD, and the film becomes a plunging tour of recklessness and dissoluteness shared by everybody, with the most sensual shades coming out of some of these young dancers and the most barbaric shades coming out of others.

Noe loves putting the camera on Selva (Sofia Boutella) the most, the bi-curious hot shot choreographer, i.e. the cool chick. I sometimes wished Noe had followed around Gazelle (Giselle Palmer), the libidinous and constant teasing black chick more often. But there’s something sympathetic about Selva, and when the camera tracks her, you wish for her that she runs into no trouble. The pregnant one in the group, Lou (Souheila Yacoub), has run-ins with trouble, with the belligerent druggies in the group — the worst are the ones who took spiked drink and cocaine — and Noe escalates these encounters into one of numerous tragedies of the night.

Eventually, Noe turns the camera upside down in a miasma of retching, fornicated, body contorting freak-outs, and at first I admit I found the whole cinematic method to be arch and over-stylized. But Noe obstinately sticks to it, and I came around realizing that this is what it feels like when acid drugs take you to a crashing point, where your perception is so flipped upside-down you stick the floor like jelly.

“Climax” is a tunnel vision of drugs as hell, and the done in real time with long tracking shots is what lends you experience to everybody’s insanity; in a way you’re glad it is Noe’s shortest film to date at 96 minutes. But the best takeaway of the film is the first krumping, human-as-Cubist-figures dance rehearsal — this is spellbinding cinema. The drawback of the film is its hermetic quality, only in the briefest of moments do we get out of the school building where this has all taken place, and I almost wish Noe had given us little flash cuts of where these dancers came from, something from their cracked domestic life. Then again, I’m almost glad I didn’t get into the heads of all these people, because many of them do come off as too weird — the kind of people that were filled with violent, bestial, satyric, debauched, wicked subconsciousness to begin with. What’s here is already enough of Noe-trademark wild.

96 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “The Devils” (1971); “Fame” (1980); “Irreversible” (2003, France); “Black Swan” (2010).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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