* * * * -

Gaspar Noé learns to control himself (slightly) in his best film to date.

Image of Climax

Gaspar Noé/ France Belgium USA/ 2018/ 95 min

Available on Blu-ray Mon 11 Feb 2019

Gaspar Noé is a lot. In his two decades as a feature film director he’s shown no signs of being afraid to portray anything on screen. Whether it be a horrific rape sequence which centres his most famous work, Irreversible, or an ejaculation shot filmed dead centre of the frame (and in 3D!) in 2015’s Love, the Argentinian/French filmmaker offers a bold vision unlike any other in cinema. And whilst the latest edition to his filmography will do little to convince critics of his style, those already on board are sure to have one hell of a ride.

Climax is a film about dancers. A recently put-together troupe finish a successful rehearsal and decide to cap the day off with a party – except somebody’s spiked the sangria and everything descends into a drug-induced nightmare of paranoia and suspicion; it is a Gaspar Noé film after all. However, whereas previous Noé works might have indulged themselves in the madness that follows – here the director finds himself relatively restrained.

Before the horror kicks in however, the film treats us to a long introduction to set the scene. First we get log after log of video interviews from certain individuals in the troupe (played through a small T.V monitor surrounded by VHS copies of films like Possession and Salò – subtlety not being a particular strength of Noé’s), before we hit the true majesty of the film: the dance.

Backed by a grand French flag, Climax’s opening dance sequence is near five minutes of boisterous energy played out to a pulsating remix of Cerrone’s Supernature. Whilst Noé has a reputation for rolling camerawork and dizzying cinematography, here he controls himself aside from a few crane shots and one obligatory axis spin. The twisting and turning visuals come later.

Alas, Noé can’t keep the joy up for long and things quickly turn dark as Climax becomes less a study of mob-mentality and more a full on horror film/descent into hell – a switch that the film handles expertly. With nauseating greens and devilish reds quickly swallowing up the colour palette, the film drops all pretense of confronting the reality of real life dangers, and instead runs the audience through a haunted house of their worst fantasy fears – lead by a marvelously manic central performance from dancer-turned-actor Sofia Boutella.

If you’ve never ventured into a film by Gaspar Noé before, Climax is a great place to start.  It contains all his indulgences but packs them into a tight hour and a half.  If you’re a fan of his previous material then this is a great place to end up – it contains everything you want from his work, but without the glorification of its ugliness.  Gaspar Noé has matured and his output is all the better for it.