starring Sofia Boutella, Kiddy Smile, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub
written and directed by Gaspar Noé
by Angelo Muredda It's hard out here for a Gaspar Noé hater. The France-based Argentine arthouse trickster surprised even himself at Cannes when his latest, Climax, got positive notices from some who had previously written him off as a snotty provocateur. (Noé has reliably yielded some of the finest mean criticism out there: Consider Mark Peranson likening Enter the Void, in his Cannes dispatch from 2009 for CINEMA SCOPE, to "Entering the void of the cavity that is Gaspar's brain.") Climax, by contrast, was supposed to be as innovative, fun, and watchable as his previous attempts at in-your-face fuckery were punishing.
A maximalist by nature, Noé shows admirable restraint in the slow-burn up to this reveal, at which point the beat drops and the exuberant, punchy title credits, another Noé tradition, finally start to roll. He gets some relaxed, fresh performances out of his non-professional cast (plus Sofia Boutella as Selva, the group's choreographer and our most frequent point of identification in the satanic Steadicam shots that move us across the dance floor and through the guts of the school) in the lead-up to this genre turn. That's true both in the party setting, where the cuts become increasingly frantic and unnerving as the drug kicks in, and in a cheeky preamble where each dancer gives a video interview played on an old TV set, surrounded by books and VHS copies of movies that have clearly served as inspiration, from Salò to Suspiria.
It would be one thing if Climax were content to be an exuberantly shot, propulsive, and nasty horror movie about how doing hallucinatory drugs in enclosed spaces with people you don't trust will mess you up. Unfortunately, Noé can't help but trade in intellectually impoverished metaphors about multiculturalism in France, dodgy racial politics, and lazy taboos--treating incest and child imperilment, to name just a couple of topics he breezes past as his camera surveys the fallout, as fun bonus ingredients. As usual, and despite the film's relative success as a pure genre exercise, Noé's edginess isn't the special sauce he intends so much as more poison for the sangria. Programme: Midnight Madness