Tuesday, 25 September 2018
2018 France Directed by Gaspar Noé
UK cinema release print.
I’ve now seen four out of the five full length feature films that Gaspar Noé has made and, I have to say, I wouldn’t really call myself a great admirer of his work. While I quite enjoyed his Enter The Void (reviewed here) I was not a fan of either Irreversible or Love (reviewed here). However, since this movie has been getting such good word of mouth and also played at FrightFest this year, I really wanted to catch this one. Especially since one of my favourite emerging actresses, Sofia Boutella, is in it. I’d not heard a single bad thing about it on Twitter... alas, now I’ve seen this thing myself I’m wondering if the huge clamour of people falling over themselves to be seen proclaiming the brilliance of this movie is just a case of The Emporer’s New Clothes syndrome more than anything else. Well perhaps not because I did, frankly, see something which made me feel out of touch a little at the end of the screening but... hmm, I’ll talk about that at the end of this review.
So Climax starts off quite strongly with a shot of snow and one of the characters - I couldn’t tell which one - dragging her blood stained body down the screen. Then the end credits roll and I was immediately hoping this wasn’t going to be another case of Irreversible, where each segment precedes the one you just saw. Luckily for me, this wasn’t the case and this end sequence is followed by a long, static shot of a TV screen showing you talking heads of the various dancer characters being interviewed for the show which they are seen rehearsing at the start of... ‘the rest of the movie”. Now, I have to say I did miss out a little on some of this dialogue because, one the left hand side of the TV screen there’s a pile of books and on the right there is a pile of old VHS cassettes. So I was busy trying to identify titles such as Zombie and a book on Fritz Lang as much as I was trying to concentrate on the subtitled dialogue here, it has to be said.
Now, after this we get our first scene in the main hall of the building where all of the rest of the movie is set... the camera travels back and forth between various rooms and corridors for the rest of the running time. This first sequence here is of the dance troop, who are the ensemble of characters, showing the choreography they have been learning and it’s... it has to be said... fairly spectacular and captured with some swooping camera movements which, as you might expect, do go full ‘Busby Berkeley’ to a certain extent, at least in the way the cinematographer captures the footage. I was quite impressed and was ready to be further gobsmacked as a ‘party’ in the hall gets underway but, alas, things got dull very quickly after that. The plot point, such as it is, is that somebody has spiked the Sangria with LSD and, as things go on, people fall under the influence of said substance and paranoia, some mild sex, mutilation and death happen as the whole thing becomes a drug fuelled Lord Of The Flies session within the building... as things get out of hand fairly quickly.
And I’m fine with that in theory. The long takes, both static and moving camera (for quite a lot of it) is something I have no problem with but... it just needed to engage me a little more. Nothing you see in the movie is particularly new or really even shocking or horrific and I just started clock watching after a while (and it’s not a long film, clocking in at a little over an hour and a half). It reminded me a little of another film which had a deliberately chaotic mise en scene this year, Darren Aranofsky’s Mother! and, I have to say, I wasn’t impressed with that one either. And, really, I’ve got nothing against a ‘cinema of chaos’ piece and I especially embrace movies that have no story or don’t feel the need to justify themselves to their audience... but they have to at least be interesting or I’m not going to be that bothered about anything that’s happening on screen, to tell the truth.
Now that I’ve said that, the film does have a few good things going for it...
The acting is first rate and, since I’ve now learned the script was only five pages long, it doesn’t surprise me that the performances were so great since I’m guessing it was mostly improvised in the 15 days it took to shoot it and, frankly, you have to be good as an actor if you can handle that level of creative input. Also, since it’s quite complex in terms of camera movement and tying things together visually, I’m very impressed with the director... at least in as much as he was able to capture the footage in a way that, for most of the film, makes sense (although it does get confusing for the last twenty minutes or so when the camera is deliberately tilted upside down).
There’s also a nice little incident which takes place in the kitchen area of the building about half way through which was so sudden I wasn’t expecting it and this did kind of lift my hopes up for the movie a bit... before slowly destroying my expectations again. Alas, there were no more surprises once this moment is passed and by about three quarters of the way through I was just wanting it to end because my jaw was threatening to dislocate itself with all the yawning.
There’s even a bit of dialogue from those opening talking heads that might come back to haunt you when you watch the last shot of the movie, which I suspect might have been partially inspired by Man Ray’s 1932 photograph Glass Tears. Alas, when this shot finishes, that’s also the end of the movie and it’s a movie where you never quite see a lot of the really unpleasant stuff going on... just its aftermath which, would be fine if it was presented in a more engaging manner.
Now, the interesting thing was... once that last shot was done the screen went dark and the house lights came up. I was bored silly by this point and stood up to leave when I noticed the other audience members in the cinema (which could only have been a quarter full), were all just sat in stony silence and contemplating what they just saw. I thought then that maybe I was missing something because, frankly, the only other time I ever saw something similar in audience reaction was with Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream when it previewed at the London Film Festival the year before it was released... except that Aranofsky’s film had been definitely worthy of this kind of reaction, it has to be said. I just couldn’t work out why people were responding like this to Climax because, after all, it was a very mild and kinda dull movie... at least that’s how I experienced it.
My puzzlement was further exacerbated when I went to the loo and various audience members were in there and talking heatedly about the brilliant movie they’d just seen and I really did feel a little out of step. What the heck was I missing? My first thoughts were that these were just people who didn’t get out and go to enough movies but maybe I’m just a little out of touch when it comes to Gaspar Noé... I just don’t think I’m impressionable enough to be his target audience. I remember a similar thing when the original Trainspotting came out at the cinema and it just felt kinda ‘old hat’ to me. This particular brand of movie making representing a loss of control rendered as visual chaos has been done numerous times before by the likes of Federico Fellini in Eight And A Half and even the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup so... yeah... this one just felt very muffled to me, I guess. It won’t be making my top ten this year, for sure.
However, I hope Noé continues to make plotless films because he is, at least, one of the very few auteurs (and he is an auteur, whether you like his films or not) who is willing to try his hand at something like this. I’m still hoping he’ll make something I’ll absolutely click with in future years so... yeah... I shall continue to keep my fingers crossed.
In the meantime, I don’t feel like I could really recommend Climax, in all honesty but it obviously has a lot of fans out there so maybe give it a go anyway. At the very least, if you don’t find it to your taste, it’s a relatively short movie... it just doesn’t feel like it.