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Reviews For The Easily Distracted: Climax
Title: Climax

Describe This Movie In One Super Troopers Quote:

COLLEGE BOY 3: I'm freaking out, man!

Brief Plot Synopsis: We can't samba here; this is bat country.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 4 Horatio J. HooDoos out of 5.

Tagline: n/a

Better Tagline: "Dance Dance Hallucination."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: it's a wrap party (or whatever the dance equivalent is) for a troupe of French dancers rehearsing at an abandoned school. Problem is, someone has spiked the sangria, and not with Everclear (like normal, God-fearing Americans), but with LSD (like perverse, chain-smoking Burgundians). It doesn't take long before the dancers are déchiré ballons and using their newly expanded consciousness to act on their worst impulses.

"Critical" Analysis: It's not inaccurate to say director Gaspar Noé has a thing for provoking audiences. His previous films Irréversible and Enter the Void were arguably most noteworthy for the number of walkouts they generated at festival screenings, and opinion remains divided on whether the guy is a transgressive visionary or a glorified exploitation director.

Climax might not change a lot of minds either way. Visually, it's Noé's most accomplished film, brutally capturing the psychedelic panic of accidental LSD dosing while still relying on his old tricks (a love of tracking and upside-down shots), with characters that are depicted as sympathetic, then loathsome, often in the course of the same scene.

Our introduction to the cast, for example, is a culmination of the dancers' rehearsal (the "climax," if you will) that's also a ten-minute, single-take bacchanal before the bacchanal. The dancers exhibit a variety of captivating styles that turn horrific as the drugs begin to take hold. And rather than go the Fear and Loathing or Easy Rider route, Noé relies on his performers to inhabit that madness.

For the most part, he succeeds. Selva (Sofia Boutella) is the closest thing Climax has to a protagonist (she's also the film's only professional actor), and one of the few dosed characters who doesn't succumb to their baser instincts. Noé has been pretty open about his affinity for narcotics, so it's perhaps not surprising to note how those who don't indulge suffer the worst fates.

This director being ... who he is, you know to expect some shocks. There's nothing as abhorrent as the underpass scene in Irréversible or as in your face (cough) as the 3D ejaculation in Love, but LSD leads to spectacularly poor decision making. And it's safe to say if a child is introduced at the beginning of a Gaspar Noé film, things aren't going to end well.

As usual, Noé's influences are quite apparent, this time literally so. The dancers' interview tapes play on a TV flanked by shelves of movies by Buñuel and Argento and books about Fritz Lang. The interviews themselves, incidentally, are a particularly ominous form of foreshadowing, as they answer questions like "Do you believe in paradise?" and "What's your worst nightmare?" with unsuspecting candor.

The movie proceeds to spin us off to deal with their different stories, always returning to the dance floor, and every time we do it's like descending another level into hell as Noé and longtime cinematographer Benoît Debie's camerawork and color palette become progressively more nightmarish. By the time we finally reach the apocalyptic ending, it's so difficult to absorb what's going on it's almost a mercy.

So it feels weird to say Climax is easily Noé's most accessible movie to date. Apart from the opening scene and the timing of the credits (end credits first, title card at the the end), the narrative is linear. That may seem counterintuitive in a movie about people experiencing nightmarish hallucinations, but it's the best way to capture the dancers' plummet into madness.

But an "accessible" Gaspar Noé movie is still going to upset the hell out of a lot of people. So keep that in mind. If you can overlook that which seems designed to offend, there's much to admire about how he's continued to evolve as a filmmaker, if not as a proponent of the inherent decency of the human condition.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar