TIFF Review: 'Climax'

(France, 96 minutes - about half of which are just insufferable)
Dir. Gaspar Noé
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile
Programme: Midnight Madness (North American premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF
Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has well earned his status as a love-him-or-hate-him director. He wears his notoriety like a badge of honour after 2002’s Irréversible polarized cinephiles with its real-time rape scene, 2009’s Enter the Void had folks laughing in the aisles with a grand finale that imagined conception seen from the inside of a character’s cervix, and 2015’s 3D sexapalooza Love shot a bit too much pleasure in audiences’ faces. Noé’s latest romp Climax is arguably his best film—if only because it isn’t complete insufferable trash. I actually loved nearly 30 minutes of it, which is more than I can say for the rest of Noé's filmography combined.

The film depicts a night of mayhem that ensues when a club of Parisian dancers unwinds with a booze-fuelled party after rehearsals. Someone spikes the sangria with LSD, though, and things go off the rails very quickly as the hormonally charged booty-shakers turn on one another with acerbic, jittery venom. I’ve never done acid, and don’t have any plans to, but one doesn’t need to do hard-core drugs to appreciate that Climax is a little too crazy to believe.

The dance party that begins the film, however, is a full-blown riot. The first 30 minutes of Climax might be the most impressive and technically accomplished work of Noé’s career. The film watches the young dancers rehearse their latest number as the camera captures them from spectacular vantage points. Even before the acid kicks in, Climax is a head-trip as the camera cranes around the dance floor like an all-seeing eye. The gyrations, twerks, crunches, and twirls have a hypnotic thrill as the camera dances to the beat with the ensemble.

Filmed with a diverse cast of mostly non-actors drawn from dance clubs and YouTube channels, along with Kingsman’s Sofia Boutella, Climax has an energetic and intoxicating ensemble. By the end of the film’s first act, one’s pulse will be racing. It’s a complete high.

Things are fun for a while when the kids put their drinks up and unwind, but as Climax descends into nightmarish mayhem, Noé’s dark side emerges and the film devolves into the same tiresome misogyny that makes his work so tawdry. The film is gratuitously violent as the drugs bring out the worst in the dancers. It brings out the worst in Noé, too, since the characters who are subject to the cruelest pain are women, people of colour, and queer dancers. There is something just so off putting and repugnant to all this misery.

Climax is undeniably the work of a master filmmaker. But it’s also solid proof that the rule of the auteur needs to go. Only someone as ballsy and defiant as Noé would even try to pull it off, yet Climax could have been a much better film had someone in the production had the sense of stand up to Noé’s instance to push the envelope so gratuitously far. The film’s a riot for about half an hour, and then it becomes insanely outrageous, provocative, and off-the-wall bonkers, if only for the sake of it. Climax might be the wildest booze-fuelled party Noé has ever thrown, but the hangover is so torturous that it might be the bender that helps one kick him for good.