"I take orders from the Octoboss."


I’m not too well-versed in the films of Gaspar Noe. I still haven’t seen his early films like I STAND ALONE and IRREVERSIBLE that gained him a following and a reputation as a nihilistic wipe-your-nose-in-it gloom merchant. I have seen ENTER THE VOID, which taught me that he’s also a great stylist with incredible technical mastery in the area of long takes and seemingly impossible camera moves. I knew this one also had dancing, so I checked it out.

Here’s my pitch: STEP UP 3 meets mother! on acid. Literally on acid – it’s about a French dance troupe having a party in an empty school building and realizing somebody dosed the sangria. Everybody gradually goes from joyfully celebrating their progress on a new routine to getting paranoid, agitated and violent. The few who didn’t drink it are suspected of spiking it, and become targets for the others. Everybody is trying to fuck everybody else while also trying not to be fucked by everybody else. It turns into a dark, horny fever dream where the rooms keeping getting darker and redder and the camera more disorienting, eventually even upside down (shout out to the massage parlor robbery scene in TOO MANY WAYS TO BE NO. 1). I noticed that there was a whole lot of screaming and wigging out, but actually didn’t catch that 42 minutes of it was one unbroken take.

It’s a grueling experience in dance party terror, it’s provocative in a pretty adolescent way, and it seems like it should be sponsored by the D.A.R.E. program, so I fully understand anybody hating this one. But I don’t know – I kinda dug it. It’s got lots of fun dancing, a catchy beat (until it completely goes to Hell), a cast of hot exotic French dancers, and my favorite mummy Sofia Boutella (KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, STAR TREK BEYOND, ATOMIC BLONDE) in a challenging role where she has to improvise, dance, do the splits up against a wall, and have a long, intense freakout where she seems to think her nylons are devouring her. Also it’s only 96 minutes long so it’s not that torturous.

I didn’t realize that Boutella started as a dancer – she was in videos for Madonna, Jamiroquai and others, and starred in the British dance movie STREETDANCE 2 right before MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT broke her into the secular world. Souheila Yacoub, whose character Lou is in the midst of a pregnancy scare, is also a dancer who has done some acting (in an episode of the French tv series Plus belle la vie). Everyone else in the 24-member ensemble is a dancer with no acting experience, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that they were given a basic scenario and character traits but no script, and worked together to improvise the whole story in chronological order, shooting for only 15 days. All the characters have little subplots going, which were worked out based on what the dancers thought would be interesting.

I like the playfulness of the filmatism, alternating between elaborate technical show-offery and intentional basic-ness. Like, the standout scene is definitely the 5 minute dance number, done in a single take that continues for another 7 minutes after the dancing stops. But then there’s a long section just of the characters paired off having conversations about sex, with straight on shots and edits like somebody’s homemade VHS epic.

There’s only the one choreographed number, but it’s also fun that we get to see these advanced dancers during a party, and there’s a long sequence with a bird’s eye view as they take turns in the middle of the circle. And as everything devolves many of them can be spotted doing weird moves and contortions, off in their own dimension in a corner as the camera roams the different rooms and halls cataloging the various screams of agony coming from all around.

The most upsetting part is when one lady’s little son Tito (Vince Galliot Cumant) sneaks some of the sangria. She locks him in a room where he cries about hallucinated roaches while being reassured “It’s a party. There’s balloons and surprises,” from the other side of the door.

But Noe’s provocation starts long before the bad trip. After a brief prologue he’s got basically the same as the opening shot of US: a TV screen filling the middle of the screen, a stack of movies next to it that must’ve been influences on the movie or something. I know SUSPIRIA and POSSESSION were there. The left side is books, but I didn’t see Seagalogy, so who gives a shit what they were? Obviously nobody.

Anyway the TV is showing interviews of the different dancers who will be in the movie. All the different characters. Talking about dancing and their lives, setting everything up. Every one of them. Going back and forth between all of them. It just keeps going. From neat little gimmick to okay I get it to I think he might be fucking with us, cutting about half a second before is this just gonna be the whole thing?

And he’s got the end credits at the beginning and then in the middle there are more credits, with logos for the production companies and the bands on the soundtracks, a little too big and flashing a little too fast.

The dancer interviews reminded me of the “Born From a Boombox” documentary clips at the beginning of STEP UP 3, and the dance sequence reminded me of that movie too, in particular my favorite dance battle, The Battle of Red Hook. Some of the moves are similar, and they move toward the camera in a similar way – I assumed it was shot in 3D like Noe’s last movie LOVE, but it turns out they’re just using that style because it’s cool.


If you’re among the many people who hated CLIMAX but liked that dance scene – or also if you are not among those people – I seriously do recommend STEP UP 3. It lacks the cool gimmick of the unbroken take, but otherwise it’s more elaborate and stylish in its dancing, it has way more of it, and it’s a movie full of charm instead of misery. It’s even better if you watch part 2 first, but you’ll be able to figure out the plot either way.

Anyway I would definitely watch CLIMAX 2 THE STREETS.

P.S. Here’s a video that used the same choreographer, Nina McNeely:

And I can’t believe I never knew this before, but there’s an official video for the posthumously released Michael Jackson song “Hollywood Tonight” that stars Boutella.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 26th, 2019 at 10:08 am and is filed under I don't know, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “Climax”

  1. Haven’t seen this yet, but I have seen I STAND ALONE and IRREVERSIBLE – which are like the book AMERICAN PSYCHO in that I’m glad I’ve read it, but I wouldn’t nescessarily recommend it to anyone – so I’ll probably watch it.

  2. IRREVERSIBLE fucked me up more than any other movie I’ve ever seen, so I saw ENTER THE VOID hoping it would be a mind bending psychedelic experience rather than an emotionally devastating one. Instead I just didn’t give a shit about it. Without any kind of strong emotional hook grounding all the showoffery and shock tactics, nothing stuck. I couldn’t even tell you what that movie was about. I remember the vagina shot, but not WHY there was a vagina shot. It’s just another shot for his demo reel. As the premises of Noe’s movies get even more nebulous, I find myself even less interested. I’m interested in how one pulls off a 42-minute shot, but “Some dancers take acid and freak out about the kinds of things dancers find interesting” is not a plot I know how to care about. I kind of put Noe in the George Clinton class of artists: I’m glad he’s out there trying new techniques, but I’d rather wait until the next guy comes along and does something palatable with them.

  3. I don’t know. These arthouse filmatists who are at one hand really talented, but use their talents only for “shocking” movies and calculated scandals, frustrate me to no end. From what I’ve heard, this one was low on festival walkouts and shit like that and is by Noe standards even almost mainstream in terms of sex and violence, but it just rings so shallow and stupid to me.

    If you do it once or twice, I believe that you really wanted to do this, because you believe in the story. But after that it only becomes schtick, no matter how beautifully shot your movie is.

  4. Step Up 3D is such a whirling dervish of joy that it completely cured me of 3-day-long post-traumatic-stress-induced panic attack.

    Not even kidding.

    I was having a really rough week on the anniversary of my Skinhead attack (which I described recently in other threads) and was kinda in a manic state/prolonged panic attack. Then I went to see Step Up3D and it made me feel so good, all of my symptoms were gone, *instantly* and they’ve never come back.

    Step Up 4 and 5 were good too. But 3 is where it’s at.

  5. Was I the only one who noticed that pretty every bit of violence depicted (sexual or otherwise) is committed by a black person? I know the French can be pretty obtuse about race sometimes, but it was hard to tell if that was some sort of intentional provocation or just your standard French racism.

    Also, I’m kind of sick of these opening shots that signal all the influences/themes/motifs through VHS boxes. That shit’s stupid.

    That said, this movie does have some pretty undeniably cool choreography and camerawork and is worth seeing, even if it’s not my thing.

  6. I definitely think one could argue that Noe is not a serious artist and just gets off on fucking with us, but then I also think Ari Aster is mainly just a provocateur, and he’s having a big critical moment. That said, I really like ENTER THE VOID, and for such a wholly negative and shallow outlook it’s a unique experience and becomes almost spiritual. I felt almost the same about CLIMAX.

  7. grimgrinningchris

    June 26th, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    IRREVERSIBLE is my number 1, no question, movie that- I am glad I saw and made it through… but never EVER EVER want to see it again. It may be the only movie that ever made my physically ill… both from the subject matter and its visual representation… AND that Noe put all this drony SUPER bottom-end heavy audio in it that literally churned my guts.

  8. My most vivid memory of seeing Irreversible, was catching it probably a month into it’s run (it was only still playing one theater in all of Manhattan) and there only being about four other people in the house. About three or four minutes before the rape scene begins, all these dudes start filing in, one at a time, sitting apart from each other. So at the beginning of the rape scene, suddenly the house has three times as many people as there was at the start.

    Anyway, rape scene goes on for ten minutes or whatever, ends, then these guys start filing out, one at a time, until it’s just me and the original four again.

    There’s a couple beats, then someone says “Did what I think just happen. actually just happen?” which was easily the best part of the movie.

  9. John, how many movies do that with VHS covers? 2?

  10. Yep, two too many.

  11. I wouldn’t want to see it every time but two times seems pretty cool to me.

  12. This STEP UP 3 movie looks amazing, why haven’t you guys ever mentioned this before?

  13. jojo’s story is absolutely fucking terrifying.

    How do y’all feel about LOVE?

  14. I think Noe is really talented, but I don’t think his movies are for me. I just don’t connect, and I lose interest, despite the quality of filmmaking. I’ve fast-forwarded through most of his work.

    But I do love Sofia Boutella. She’s so stunning and charming, and I like that she’s given something more challenging. Maybe I have to try this.

  15. I dug this one quite a bit. Definitely the superior artsy dance/horror picture of 2018.

  16. Urs Unternährer

    July 2nd, 2019 at 10:54 am

    This one definitely benefits from seeing it on the big screen and with a good sound system. I saw it at a midnight show zonked out of my skull with like 5 other people there and it was one of my favorite cinematic experiences of the last few years. Rewatching it on my laptop a few months later, not so much.

    Also while it might not be going for realism, it definitely gets the part of a trip where everything comes in waves and your mood can change in an instant completely right. Boutella’s freakout is fun on its own, but where she nails it is what comes before and after it.

    Also love the main room getting more and more hellish every time she wanders back into it.

  17. Nabroleon Dynamite

    July 4th, 2019 at 8:21 am

    I haven’t seen Love, but Climax is probably in my Gaspar Noe Top 3 (behind Irreversible and Enter The Void).


    I’m gonna go with the racism being genuine because I can’t imagine Gaspar Noe being subtle about such a hot button topic.

    He would have ramped it past 11.

    Weird irony.

  18. Sternshein – fair, I just feel like it’s sort of cheap and a little condescending to point out your influences in that way, as if you can’t trust the audience will pick up on your references.

    Dynamite – I’m inclined to agree. I actually just went to France and their racism is funny in that they seem a little less aware of it than in the United States, where a lot of people (especially in the past 5 years or so) seem hyperaware of race and tend to be either righteous or defensive about racial issues.

  19. Saw this over the weekend and mostly enjoyed it. I mean it’s super dumb but it’s so arty and has subtitles, that means it must be super smart! It was my first Noe and I guess I’ll get around to his other works eventually. I’m very skeptical of any artist/writer/whatever who is called a “provocateur.” 99% of the time that just means that they are an asshole who likes to needle people. Lloyd Kaufman is a provocateur for example but his movies are not arty enough I guess for us to give him a pass and call him a great artist.

  20. geoffreyjar – That description of a provocateur definitely applies to Noe. It’s the whole trying-to-be-controversial issue I have with some artists; it’s not up to you to decide whether you’re controversial or not, and most attempts to be just generate eye-rolls. But Noe isn’t untalented, so the provocations are occasionally affecting.

  21. It’s funny you’ve only seen my least favorite Gaspar Noe movie, Outlaw Vern. Can you force yourself through IRREVERSIBLE already? It’s by far his best, in my opinion. Hey John, you’re not the only one. Noe has a thing where he talks about homosexuality and race in this really abhorrent way, but talks about rape in such a sensitive, nuanced way I struggle to brand him a bigot. Yet, the presence of homophobia and racism is there in each and every one of his films, to a certain degree. I loved CLIMAX, but the racism in it was appalling. There was the scene of painting the black dancers with frosting? I think it was frosting. But it just looks like white paint, and there’s a shot later on with a dude that has a white hand-print on his back. It’s this sort of throw-back to dictating black people in terms of tribalism. Plus, most of the black characters seem to be relegated to groaning over rape, and expressing themselves through dance in this animal-like approach. But, then… dance is an animalistic approach, isn’t it? I can’t really tell if it’s on purpose or not.

  22. VUDU had this listed in their “Slasher Sale” which may not exactly be accurate but I think that categorizing it that way gives it a little more structure and makes its intentional aimlessness (slightly) easier to watch. (In fact I somehow missed that Boutella was the choreographer watching the tapes at the beginning – I spent the whole movie thinking the choreographer was some unseen Phantom of the Paradise-style guy who invited them there to kill them off, Jigsaw-style)

    Anyways, I know Vern’s Step Up 3 comparison sealed the deal for most of us, but I actually thought this surprisingly turned out to be a more interesting riff on “The Thing” than “Hateful Eight” – we’ve got a group of coworkers whose simmering tensions explode into distrust and paranoia, the freezing cold setting and certainty of death looming just outside the door, excruciatingly intense body horror and more contorted/mangled limb imagery than I thought possible. (Yes, I’m only thinking this because I just rewatched The Thing recently and between this movie and that, I’m sure my neighbors are wondering why horribly loud shrieking noises and ear-piercing screams keep coming from my house).

    SPOILER: I do think the “reveal” of whodunit at the end is kind of a letdown. Like I know it’s completely besides the point and doesn’t matter, but I’m pretty sure this was the least interesting character we’ve met in the entire movie. I know that might be the point too but you could have had literally any other character be the culprit and it’d be a more satisfying ending.

  23. Neal RE: SPOILER

    But neal… She was the one character, ONE character who was anti-drug… so to find out that SHE was the one who caused the happy fun party is both ironic and profound…

  24. Geoffrey – *SPOILER* – OK, thank you for clearing that up for me. I think there’s SUCH an overload of information, especially with that endless interview scene at the beginning, that I had completely missed/forgot that that was the character’s trait. Part of me thinks the movie is made for a second viewing (I admit I immediately went back and rewatched the group dance number which is pretty poignant after the apocalyptic ending), but it’s also a pretty grueling watch. I absolutely loved the experience though.

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