It has been snowing around this village in the Alps, and as it is now daylight in the morning, a young woman, stained with blood, stumbles along and eventually collapses, agonisingly wailing all the time. What has happened to her? To find that out we must return to when she was auditioning as a dancer for a 1996 tour of Europe and the United States; the audition tapes survive and when viewed they reveal the performers were a collection mostly from France, though others hailed from elsewhere. Some revealed they were gay, others that they had done drugs in the past, and all were excited about the prospect of setting off on this excursion. But first they had to rehearse...
And that is where it goes horribly wrong in an example of a film from Gaspar Noé that proved to be one of his mildest. Mildest compared to the usual Noé experience, that was, as while there was no hardcore sex and the violence was relegated to a few brief moments, it was still strong stuff when put alongside many a cult director's opus. He had been inspired by one of his favourite films, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, a piece he had returned to again and again throughout his career, only in this case instead of mankind's evolution, he wanted to depict mankind's devolution, a commentary on how, like shares, prices can go up as well as down, and it really went down here.
That feeling we were on the brink of a total breakdown in society was one that had been difficult to shake ever since the turn of the millennium, and had revealed itself not merely in the culture across the globe, but the politics and science as well. The fears that we were headed on an inexorable path to our doom could be regarded as a metaphor for the journey to our individual destruction, that was our personal demise, and that was always something this director was captivated by, but as a race of people the pressing thought that we were, say, three missed meals away from anarchy was one which appeared to be in the back of everyone's minds, thus ripe for tapping into by this filmmaker.
Not solely Noé, either, as the impending apocalypse that may or may not be around the corner fed into plenty of movies, some more obviously than others. But here we were with a dedicated exponent of looming oblivion, and what's more, he had made a musical. Climax was populated by characters who were dancers, and that's what they did, they kicked things off with a tour de force of modern dance to Supernature by Cerrone (a go-to track for disco decadence from way back) and after their "official" routine they paired off into frequent improvised terpsichorean showing off, as instructed by their guide who basically told them to do what they wanted as outlined by his loose shooting script which emphasised that improvisation as the best method of getting to the heart of his concerns.
This did mean the conversations in between the dancing were rambling affairs, as dancers are not necessarily actors, though the ostensible lead, Sofia Boutella, was a dancer AND an actress, here playing the leader of the troupe who realises that during their party to celebrate how well things are going, oh dear, someone spiked the sangria. Now they are all reacting in increasingly deranged ways, and though what we witnessed in Climax was bad and not the sort of party anyone would want to be invited to, there was the impression Noé was holding back to an extent. It could have been because of that make it up as it goes structure (or lack of it), but if he had planned out more effects and sharper interactions, rather than simply have his cast do as they will, this could have evoked the Hieronymus Bosch tableau he was evidently aiming for rather than resemble a night out at the all-primal-screaming, agitprop theatre. Nevertheless, it did have a dedication to presenting its terror about the dark heart of humanity that was compelling enough.