Cannes 2018: Gaspar Noé's Dance-Horror 'Climax' is Pure Artistic Joy
by Alex Billington
May 22, 2018
Every year at the Cannes Film Festival, there are one or two films that I see at the right time and right place for me to suddenly get that visceral feeling where I'm screaming inside about "holy shit I'm at the Cannes Film Festival!!!!!" This year, watching Gaspar Noé's latest film Climax gave me that feeling, and it was sublime to experience. Noé's return to Cannes with his latest work came with an immense amount of hype and expectations and buzz, but he's actually made his least controversial film to date. It's half a dance film, half a drug-trip horror film and that's pretty much it, but it's pure artistic joy and cinematic expression. It's the kind of film you can only properly experience on the big screen, not because it really needs a big screen, but because it's the epitome of what great cinema is - the vibrant art and unique magic of visual storytelling.
Gaspar Noé's Climax opens by introducing us, through video taped interviews played on an old TV, to the group of dancers who are spending a weekend together at a chalet in the forest to practice a dance routine. For whatever obvious reasons, Noé decides to blatantly place video tapes of horror films next to the TV, including a number of films that are direct references and inspirations for Climax. Once the title arrives, the film continues with a phenomenal dance number featuring the entire dance troupe. And it's breathtaking. The choreography by Nina McNeely is fresh and exciting and unique, and I love every last second of this dance sequence. I could honestly watch this dance scene, shot in one continuous take gliding from overhead shots to close-ups, over and over by itself. It's a spectacle in and of itself, and damn is it glorious to behold.
To break it down, Noé's Climax is just a fun experiment in artistic filmmaking and artistic expression. After the opening dance sequence, he spends time focusing on the non-actors interacting at a party, discussing sex and life and relationships, then continues into an extended horror sequence where every one starts to go crazy after being "drugged" by something put into the sangria they're all drinking. But, there's a subtle hint, that it's likely they're actually being possessed and going crazy because some unhappy ghosts are the chalet are tormenting them. There's never any more discussion about this, and the the film is entirely contained to the inside of this building, so it's very minimal horror - if anything. This might bother some viewers, but I didn't mind. It's not an overly-complex experience, and sometimes that's the kind of cinema snack we need.
I fully expected everyone's personal experience with Climax to be be varied. Some people will find it boring and derivative and basic, while others will end up lost in the visuals and music. It's essentially a dance party that becomes a horror film, and some may enjoy the first half more than the second, or vice versa. The later freak out scenes are crazy, but never too violent or gory. Noé seems to be having more fun with the dance music soundtrack, dance scenes, and interaction between than dancers, rather than crafting an intriguing narrative, which is his style anyway. And it worked for me, and I'll happily rewatch this just for that opening dance, though there's not much more to find in the narrative itself. This may not be Noé most controversial work, but it might be his most satisfying as pure cinematic entertainment, and that is still an achievement.
Alex's Cannes 2018 Rating: 9 out of 10
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