In over 30 years Argentinian born French film-maker Gaspar Noé has only made five feature films yet they are amongst some of the most provocative and disturbing films ever made. “I Stand Alone” (“Seul Contre Tous“) (1998), “Irreversible” (2002), “Enter the Void” (2009), “Love” (2015), and his latest film “Climax“, which may well be his masterpiece. His films really are impossible to pigeon-hole, genuinely a genre all of their own. He makes uncomfortably immersive mind-bendingly powerful films unlike any other film-maker, taking the audience to some dark places of the human psyche like no other. Understandably some find his films too extreme and overpowering to watch. To be honest I find it near on impossible to watch the shocking rape scene in “Irreversible“, but then that is the point. The depiction of rape should be difficult to watch. Some may view it as exploitation, however with the scene he depicted the brutal reality of what a rape victim goes through.
With all his films he shows real world realities. It has been said that with “Taxi Driver” Martin Scorsese depicted a psychopath but with I Stand Alone Gasper Noe puts the audience in the mind of a psychopath. That is pretty much what he does with characters in all of his films, and it is possibly that aspect which some find uncomfortable. Not surprisingly because of the nature of his films he is a very divisive “love him or hate him” film-maker.
Gaspar Noé is in some respects similar to David Lynch, whereby when he is making a film he at times goes with his feelings rather than necessarily wanting the film to make a linear narrative sense. David Lynch calls it dream logic. Gaspar Noé’s style is not quite dream logic but it is as similarly abstract and surreal at times. What he depicts in all of his films is raw and extremely disturbing, nevertheless it is always an honest depiction of the human condition.
This same raw and disturbing reality is evident in “Climax“.
Set in 1996 and inspired by a French urban legend. Gaspar Noé’s main inspirations were modern dance, Dante‘s “The Divine Comedy“, Dario Argento‘s “Suspiria“, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope“, Andrzeji Zulawski‘s “Possession“, Alan Parker‘s “Fame“, and Stanley Kubrick‘s “2001: A Space Odyssey“. Yet it is still a unique film as only he could make. An absolute perfect melding together of visuals, sound design, and some of the best dance music of the 1990s, including Daft Punk, Aphex Twin, Soft Cell, Giorgio Moroder, and Gary Numan, to name but a few. The music through the course of the film almost becomes another character
“Climax” is one of the best, and most original, dance-centric films ever made. However, it is far more than just a dance film. As with all of his previous films it will not be for everyone, and not surprisingly prompted walkouts at some screenings. An overwhelmingly intense experience that pulls no punches. Although “Climax” is among one of the most intense and disturbing films ever made it is possibly the least overtly extreme of his films, but his most extreme on a psychological level. A film that takes the viewer on a journey to the depths of a psychological hell.
The entire film was amazingly shot in just 15 days, with the whole film being completed in only four months, from conception in January 2018 to final edit. Gaspar Noé’s master-stroke was choosing the cast on the basis that they were professional dancers rather than actors, the only professional actor being Sofia Boutella. This worked perfectly because in the dramatic scenes they all acquit themselves brilliantly, with their skill as dancers saying as much about the characters as any of these scenes in the film. However, of these dance sequences only one was choreographed, with all the others being improvised by the dancers themselves. Gaspar Noé gave them a five page screenplay to work from, so allowing them to improvise all their dialogue. This works beautifully, letting the scenes speak for themselves and gives them a far more realistic feel. Complimented by a mostly static camera by cinematographer Benoît Debie and some superb editing by Denis Bedlow and Gaspar Noé. Via these sequences the dancers perfectly flesh out their characters. At other times in juxtaposition he brilliantly uses long continuous tracking shots, without a doubt the best use in recent years, fully enhancing the story and characters. His use of these audacious shots is incredible in their technical achievement. Whereas other film-makers use these shots to add style he uses them to compliment the substance, making a genuinely immersive character driven experience. Alejandro G. Iñárritu who directed “The Revenant” and “Birdman” comes to mind with his use of continuous shots. His use slightly nullifies the substance and takes away from the character aspects, whereas Gasper Noe has a full grasp of using it to enhance every aspect of the film. Using it in a non-intrusive way to compliment the story and characters.
Incredibly in just over 90 minutes he brings more depth, encompassing more themes and ideas than many film-makers would manage in two hours plus. It is a film like no other, made by a film-maker at the absolute peak of his creative powers, showing complete mastery over the medium of film, using it to make a truly unique experience.
From the beautiful disturbingly dark poetic opening scene to the final shot “Climax” is a virtuoso piece of film-making. An incredibly immersive, unique, and disturbing film. A true descent into hell.
For those who have experienced any of Gaspar Noé’s previous films “Climax” delivers what you would expect, and then a whole lot more. For those who have not you will be in for an experience the like of which you have never had before.