From the shock of ‘Irreversible’ to the fever dream of ‘Enter the Void’ or the sordid 3D infantilism of ‘Love’, Gaspar Noë’s provocative works shock and bemuse with equal measure, his adolescent insouciance undercut by often sublime craft and precise directorial acumen. Much of that is on offer with ‘Climax’, a highly theatrical presentation that begins with the end credits and ends in one of his trademark, red-lit mood pieces.
In between we’re treated to documentary-like elements in the form of interviews with the cast members, a bravura dance sequence that spirals into a rollercoaster of a Steadicam single-take, and a growing madness for the participants as their gathering turns tribal.
After the near-pornographic ‘Love’, the debauchery on hand here feels chaste in comparison. Violence, sex and betrayal are intact but done almost tastefully. It feels very much as if Noë is struggling at times to generate the energy to stay weird while still providing a coherent storyline, almost inadvertently making things work effectively despite attempts to constantly undermine expectations. This isn’t the work of some madman who’s anti-audience for the sake of provocation, throwing up random images in order to distort all sense of time and place. In fact, within the constraints both physical and narrative of ‘Climax’ rests a relatively linear story of the descent of a group thanks to psychedelic infusion.
Noë will never be the darling of the multiplex crowd, nor are his provocations so opaque that more churlish cinephiles will give him much time, preferring instead the droning of some kitchen table drama that takes place over hours that feel like millennia. Yet what’s inarguable about this titan of obnoxious cinema is that he makes films that on their own level are both provocative and entertaining, allowing sympathetic viewers to be moved by what they see while also being assaulted by the images. It’s quite fun, actually, to have the title sequence pop up 45 minutes in, and while that merits little more than an “Oh, Noë, you silly person,” that’s still a genuine reaction that provides more emotional involvement than other films that may speak to a more rarified cineaste.
We’re left with a work that feels both experiential (riding along with the characters as their trip takes dark turns) and emotionally compelling, a collision between form and content that vacillates between the silly and sublime. At the least, we’re given with ‘Climax’ a clear indication of one artist’s vision, which provides us with some trademark mayhem that will speak to the small community of filmgoers willing to give his work a shot. This may not be the best way into Noë’s world, but for those familiar enough with his shtick, ‘Climax’ feels very much like an additional building block in a career that’s unlike many in the history of film.