Published on September 26th, 2018 | by Noah Dimitrie1
TIFF ’18: Gaspar Noe’s Climax
TIFF 2018: Gaspar Noe’s new film, Climax, leaves the crowd stunned. It delivers on the hype; it’s one of the best movies of the year.
The atmosphere in the Ryerson Theatre was electric in the moments leading up to the North American premiere of Gaspar Noe’s Climax. The lucky but naive attendees (myself included) collectively carried high expectations with only about half an idea of what they were about to see. The possibility of hyperbole in the headlines out of Cannes — “Gaspar Noe’s best film,” “A Masterpiece,” “An all-out assault on the senses”— did not loom as large as the hype itself; the audience just breathed in this unhealthy but innocent curiosity. And while all of the above headlines proved to be accurate throughout the movie, what the headlines did not get across–what the audience was not prepared for–was the brilliantly painful and exhausting way in which the film delivers on its own promises. Climax is an experience I will never forget, a film that left me short of breath, a stunningly coherent experience of pure disarray. And when the screening was over, the raucous crowd filed out of the theatre dead silent, walking in a daze that only this kind of pure cinema can conjure.
Set in Paris in the mid-90s, Noe’s film opens on a bruised and bloodied woman crawling frantically through a snowy field, signalling immediately the almost animalistic terror to come. He then backtracks to a dance crew, rehearsing and waxing poetic about what they love about dance — the freedom, the pure expression, the community. But the warm fuzzies don’t last long as we are suddenly catapulted into an exciting dance routine that is so cinematically staged, Bob Fosse would roll in his grave out of jealousy. In fact, the opening 45 minutes or so is altogether pretty refreshing, a light-hearted take on the unity (and discord) involved with a crew of young, attractive dancers with their whole lives ahead of them. Noe captures these frenetic, awkward encounters in which love, lust, jealousy, and friendship are all jumbled into a beautifully relatable mess of youthful confusion. Some of it is quite sweet, other aspects are quite toxic. But Noe leaves a critical distance with his camera, framing every conversation in a straightforward master shot, a series of flies on a series of walls. He is indifferent to the characters’ charms just as much as their ugly narcissism and (in the case of two particularly obnoxious characters) misogyny. One gets the sense he is patiently waiting with a shit-eating grin on his face, knowing with a godlike omnipotence the chaos that will unfold.
When it does kick in, the LSD that almost every character has been unwittingly consuming with their sangria, Noe pounces and feasts on the devolution of everyone’s perceptions. This is where the film becomes one simulated long-take, bobbing and weaving through the drugged-up dancers as the film’s diegesis bends and contorts to their expressions, their sensual disarray. The film exits the realm of coherent reality and slips into taut, spine-chilling allegory. Like a sprawling, metafictional dance unto itself, Climax fully embraces the funny-feelings, the slow decent into uncomfortable perceptions, breaking down its effect on the soul and examining how it reveals the human id. We see the authentically primitive selves lying underneath these characters’ calm, idealistic exteriors. The weighty, expressionistic drama shackled me and my fellow filmgoers to our seats, teasing us with deplorable, visceral acts of chaos and making us mere voyeurs of it all. Noe gives us one long and brilliantly painful climax, drawn out across the span of the film’s final half, laughing as we sit back and take it with wide-eyed amazement.
This is the reason we still go to the movies. This is reason to still be excited about filmmaking in 2018. It seems so impossible to conceive of, in this day and age of cinematic copycats and jaded filmgoers, that a film could still sweep an entire crowd so high off its feet. I don’t recall seeing a single filmgoer chatting about something other than the film or playing on their phone as the crowd filed out of the theatre. Noe had them all under their spell, a silent hoard of eyeballs who all felt strangely culpable in the chaos and violence they had just witnessed. The film had transcended the same old dimensions of the screen and become so real, so immersive, that one could not simply get up and carry on with their evening without first bathing in that overwhelming sensation. This film forces you into a state of mind, it forces you to reflect—not only on the events of the film but also your place in it, the vantage point you’ve been given. Is it a blessing or a curse? Entertainment or torture? If you polled the audience, you’d get about a 50/50 split. In that polarizing sense, Gaspar Noe’s latest is so wildly successful in what it is trying to accomplish, it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that Climax is a masterpiece and the best film of the year.
Or maybe it would…I suppose you’ll just have to see it and find out for yourself.