If you don’t read another word of my review of Climax, just click on the video screen below:
That’s awesome. It comes near the beginning of Gaspar Noé’s film, right after the closing credits (because this is how Noé rolls, putting the closing credits at the beginning of the film and the opening credits in the middle). That dance sequence is one of the best from this decade’s movies, and if you have your issues with Noé — Lord knows I do — this shows you why the French provocateur can’t be shrugged off as a mere shock jock. We don’t get Noé films too often in our multiplexes, so catch this at AMC Grapevine Mills while you can.
The film takes place in a secluded, snowed-in dance studio, where the members of this troupe rehearse before they leave for their American tour. Unfortunately, someone spikes the sangria at the post-rehearsal party with LSD, and even as the dancers realize they’ve been drugged, the evening devolves into assault, rape, incest, suicide, and murder. In other words, a typical Noé film. I don’t think the troupe’s American tour will still be on after everything is done.
All of Noé’s other films play like a bad acid trip, so he might as well literalize it as a story development. As the drugs take hold, one of the dancers relieves herself on the dance floor, which is the start of every other type of bodily fluid hitting that floor. Noé gives the proceedings a genuinely hellish momentum as you can hear someone’s screams of agony all the time, even over the techno-house music that blasts through just about all of this movie. Some of the screams come from a 10-year-old boy (Vince Galliot Cumant, visible in the dance sequence above) who drinks the sangria, and his mother locks him in an electrical closet for his safety. He is terrified, but he may well actually be safer in there. Sofia Boutella, whom you saw as the amputee assassin in Kingsman and the doomed lesbian spy in Atomic Blonde, does a bravura bit late in the film as she throws herself through a corridor, writhing and grinding and screaming like the damned. (She has serious dance moves, too — she’s the one puffing the cigarette to start the dance number above.)
To what end, though? In his 2009 movie Enter the Void (his best film, for my money), he at least was grasping toward a philosophical statement. Here, there’s a series of two-shots of paired-up dancers talking for the most part about sex, and while it’s proficiently done, it still feels like Noé is filling time here. The same tediousness informs the opening sequence, a series of interviews shot on grainy VHS-looking video with the dancers spouting platitudes about what dance means to them.
Less talking and more dancing is a good direction for Noé to go. Later in the film, there’s a sequence shot entirely from an overhead angle as the dancers gather in a circle and take turns doing solo routines to the music of Daft Punk (a frequent collaborator with Noé). That’s great, but it doesn’t compare to the sequence above, as Noé’s understated but masterful camerawork showcases Nina McNeely’s choreography and the hip-hop-influenced moves of these dancers. What Noé needs is a dystopian musical so he can film more dance numbers like this one on a journey to hell. If anyone ever gives him a project like that, we all need to look out.
Starring Sofia Boutella. Written and directed by Gaspar Noé. Rated R.