Climax (2018 film)
Climax is a 2018 psychological horror film directed, written and co-edited by Gaspar Noé. An international co-production between France and Belgium, the film takes place during Winter 1996 within a single building, and features a large ensemble cast of twenty-four (led by Sofia Boutella) portraying a French dance troupe throwing an after-party after a rehearsal; however, the celebrations take a darker turn when everyone becomes increasingly agitated and confused.
French theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Gaspar Noé|
|Written by||Gaspar Noé|
The film is notable for its unusual style and production, having been conceived and pre-produced in only four weeks and shot in chronological order in only 15 days: although Noé conceived the premise, the large majority of the film was unrehearsed on-the-spot improvisation by the cast, who were given no lines of dialogue beforehand and had an almost complete liberty as to where to take the story and characters. Climax also features unusual editing and cinematography choices, and includes several lengthy long takes, including one lasting over 42 minutes. The cast of the film consists almost exclusively of dancers who, aside from Boutella and Souheila Yacoub, had no previous acting experience.
Climax premiered on 10 May 2018 in the Directors' Fortnight section at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Art Cinema Award. It was theatrically released in France on 19 September 2018 and in Belgium on 21 November 2018. The film received positive reviews, with many critics praising its direction, cinematography, soundtrack, choreography, and performances, although some criticized its violence and perceived lack of story.
A series of audition tapes is depicted, in which choreographer Selva and DJ Daddy interview potential future members of a dance troupe they are creating. They discuss topics like dance, fears, relationships, sex and drug experiences. One night in Winter 1996, in an abandoned school, the collected dancers rehearse an elaborate routine before starting an after-party. They dance and drink sangria made by the troupe manager, Emmanuelle. The diverse group has several personal issues and share gossip about one another during the celebration.
As the party progresses, the dancers get increasingly more agitated and confused, and eventually come to the conclusion that the sangria has been spiked with LSD. At first they accuse Emmanuelle, since she made the drink, but she points out that she drank it and is also suffering from its effects. Taylor, already resentful towards Omar for dating his sister Gazelle, points out that Omar, a non-drinker, has not touched the sangria, and accuses him of being the one responsible. The group gets angry and locks him outside the building in freezing conditions.
Emmanuelle sees her young son Tito, who is present at the rehearsals, drink the sangria, and locks him inside an electrical room to protect him from the agitated dancers. Selva goes to the room of her friend Lou, where Lou confesses that she did not drink because she is pregnant. However, Dom, strongly affected by the drug, enters the room, accuses Lou of spiking the drink and kicks her several times in the stomach; Lou, hurt and in great pain both emotional and physical, passes through an altercation between Alaia and Jennifer, during which Jennifer's hair is set aflame after Alaia gets physically aggressive due to Jennifer's refusal to share her cocaine.
A frenzied Lou confronts Dom with a knife on the dance floor, but the group, all heavily affected by the LSD at this point, turns on her and accuses her of having spiked the drink. Suffering an emotional breakdown, Lou ends up beating her own stomach and slices herself with the knife after the group encourages her to kill herself. Emmanuelle, who has lost the key to the electric room in which Tito is locked, is recklessly trying to free her son. When the school suddenly loses power, she realises that Tito - who is no longer screaming from the other side of the door - has electrocuted himself.
Ivana brings a heavily hallucinating Selva to Ivana's room, where the two take shelter and have sex. David discovers the two and is kicked out. David tries to enter DJ Daddy's room but is also evicted. Rejected, David encounters Gazelle, as her brother Taylor is attempting to have sex with her. Gazelle flees from Taylor and stumbles into the central hall where the remaining dancers have truly lost their minds, dancing, writhing on the floor, chanting in tongues, having sex with one another or beating each other up. Taylor catches up to Gazelle and takes her to his room while David is attacked by another dancer who slams his head against the floor.
The police arrive the next morning, finding the dancers in various states both living and dead. Psyché, Ivana's girlfriend, is dancing in the middle of the room. Dom cries at what she's done. Rocket is dead, having choked on his own vomit. Serpent, David and Kyrra are passed out. Bart is frantically scratching his abdomen. Riley is asleep with DJ Daddy. Gazelle wakes up next to Taylor, seemingly having forgotten the evening. Alaia is asleep with Cyborg. Ivana is asleep with Selva. Jennifer is screaming in the bathroom, frantically throwing sink water on her heavily burnt head. Tito lies dead next to a clicking circuit breaker. Emmanuelle lies dead, having killed herself with a knife outside the electrical room out of grief. A bloody Lou exits the building, out into the snow, screaming. Omar is dead, frozen in a fetal position. As the police search the building, Psyché goes to her room and drops acid into her eyes. Due to several books related to hallucinogens in her bag, her apparent lack of suffering from acid, and the fact that she had claimed to dislike drugs in her audition tape, it is heavily implied that she was the one who spiked the sangria. The film fades to white as Psyché sheds tears of acid.
- Sofia Boutella as Selva
- Romain Guillermic as David
- Souheila Yacoub as Lou
- Kiddy Smile as Daddy
- Claude Gajan Maull as Emmanuelle
- Giselle Palmer as Gazelle
- Taylor Kastle as Taylor
- Thea Carla Schøtt as Psyché
- Sharleen Temple as Ivana
- Léa Vlamos as Eva
- Alaïa Alsafir as Alaïa
- Kendall Mugler as Rocket
- Lakdhar Dridi as Riley
- Adrien Sissoko as Omar
- Mamadou Bathily as Bart
- Alou Sidibe as Kyrra
- Ashley Biscette as Shirley
- Mounia Nassangar as Dom
- Tiphanie Au as Sila
- Sarah Belala as Jennifer
- Alexandre Moreau as Cyborg
- Naab as Rocco
- Strauss Serpent as Serpent
- Vince Galliot Cumant as Tito
The film is loosely based on the true story of a French dance troupe in the 90s who had their alcoholic beverage spiked with LSD at an after-party; however, no further incidents took place during the actual event, unlike in the film. The idea of making a film based around dance came to Noé in late November/December 2017, when he was invited to a vogue ballroom by Léa Vlamor (who would eventually be a part of the film's cast): "I couldn’t believe the energy and the crowd – and then I thought, I’d love to film these kind of people. I’d also seen that movie by David LaChapelle called Rize, about krumping. I was amazed by these young kids dancing like they were possessed by evil forces." Although he originally felt inspired to make a documentary film about dance, he came up with the idea of Climax in early January 2018. He used 1970s films for additional inspiration, including The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure and Shivers.
He stated that the film was "all about people creating something together, and failing in the second half. It’s like the [biblical] story of the Tower of Babel. Mankind can create big things. And then with the influence of alcohol, or some accident, everything falls. [...] I remember as a teenager when I was 14, I would host parties at my home. And I liked sangria, it was the first alcohol I ever drank. But you seriously don’t need drugs to lose control, alcohol is more than enough. I’ve seen so many more fights linked to alcohol – it can turn you crazy." In another interview, he claimed that the theme of the film was "a group [of] people creating something together and then collapsing." Noé, who had experience using LSD, claimed that the film was more about the impact fear can have on people than it was about drug abuse. He also denied that the film had any kind of moral agenda, pointing out that "It is not necessarily the most aggressive ones that get punished. It's mostly about a collective screw-up."
In early January 2018, Noé had the idea of starting the production of Climax right away, and to make the film much faster than in typical productions. Producers Vincent Maraval (who had produced Noé's previous two films Enter the Void and Love) and Edouard Weil agreed, under the condition that Noé would keep the production very short and film it for cheap. Noé stated: "The whole project happened very quickly. We started casting and preparing the movie at the beginning of January , and we were shooting one month later in an abandoned school in a suburb in Paris. It was the most joyful and quick shooting I’ve ever done." He was able to quickly find a crew, made up of people that he had worked with before or had wanted to work with for a long time. The crew included cinematographer Benoît Debie, assistant director Claire Cobetta, and set decorator Jean Rabasse.
The film was cast over the month of January 2018. It was mostly made of dancers with no acting experience, as Noé found the cast himself mostly in ballrooms, krumping battles, or on the internet. As vogue and krumping are largely individual dances, most of the cast had no experience dancing as a group, or in synchronization. When asked about the casting process for the film, Noe said "I went to see some voguing ballrooms and krump battles, and I was hypnotized by their body language. These guys, who are usually very poor, become stars onstage once a month in a ballroom or in a battle."
The film's choreographer, Nina Mc Neely, is the one who had the idea of casting Sofia Boutella. The only cast members with acting experience were Sofia Boutella and Souheila Yacoub; Boutella had been a dancer for many years, although she had stopped dancing a few years before, and agreed to do it again for the film. One of the cast members was a contortionist in Congo Noé had heard of when searching for unusual dancers, and got into touch with before flying him to France. An agent brought up Yacoub when Noé asked for a dancer who would be "able to scream and shout on demand [...] I met her and we did a quick casting to see how much she could scream and dance... and she was excellent and I was like can you start on Monday... she thought I was joking at first." He recognized that the characters played by Boutella and Yacoub "would have been too hard [for] someone who is not really an actor, as they were more complicated psychologically."
Climax was shot in 15 days in an abandoned school in Paris. Although Noé conceived a basic story, and gave the cast ideas as to where the story and characters could go, he did not write any lines, and let the cast improvise the dialogue and most of the situations in front of the camera; there were no rehearsals, and only the premise, the characters' basic personality traits, and the early dance scene had been planned beforehand. He stated that when the cast asked him for a script so they could learn their lines, he answered, "No, just come to the set and do whatever you want, I’ll never push you to do anything against your will and if you have any ideas please tell them to me." Noé did give several ideas to the cast, but let them be free to follow them or not: "I knew the start and the end point, but I didn’t know the in-between. For example, initially I thought Sofia Boutella’s character, Selma, would end up with a boy, then I thought maybe it could be a girl. When I met the Russian girl dancer and I asked Sofia if she minds ending up with her, she didnt... so the whole thing was quite organic. Then I didn’t know how the story of the DJ would end... oh maybe he ends with the young dancer... But everything was shot in chronological order, which keeps the door open for any kind of re-writing." He stated that "The mood on set was so joyful and friendly. People were not getting wasted. I asked them what you would enjoy doing in the movie? How would you want to shock an audience? I would never ask them to do, what they would not like doing. Tell me who you want to kiss? Who you want to smash? Who you want to insult? And I would ask the other person, would you mind if this person wants to do this or that. And of-course the reciprocal person was welcome to [propose] anything."
After the opening scene and the audition tapes, the plot of the film starts with a long take lasting over 12 minutes, with the first five minutes consisting of a fully choreographed dance by the cast. The choreography had also not been rehearsed before shooting, with the cast improving the dance and adding to it with each take, with the help of McNeely and the rest of the crew. They eventually filmed sixteen takes, with the fifteenth being the one used in the film; Noé stated that the final two takes were the only ones good enough to be used. Another long take central to the film lasts over 42 minutes, almost half of the film's running time; Noé stated that "I was operating the camera but I had no idea how I was going to frame the scenes until immediately before I was on the set. I especially wanted the second half of the movie to be one continuous master shot, but how it was going to be I had no idea."
About the opening shot, in which Lou is seen screaming in the snow and the end credits roll, Noé stated: "I look at [the film as] a book and there is a prologue, or at the end an epilogue, a bibliography, or an additional personal note. In the case of this movie, the first exaggerated scene with her being bloody, crying in the snow, it wasn’t meant to be. It was just snowing in Paris for two days and the second day, I thought about possibly taking advantage of the weather. We got a drone and filmed the girl in the snow from above. I didn’t know how to use that footage at first. Later in the movie when they open the door, I thought that could fit in with the previous footage, if we made it snow outside and make it look like they were locked in. So I got some snow machines to re-create the whole thing. When people mentioned that there was some reference to The Shining it wasn’t that at all. I liked the idea of getting rid of the credits at the beginning of the movie. I hate ending credits. I like movies from the 40s, 50s of which movies would end abruptly. So, I knew how I wanted to end the movie. I found like a satanic icon that I could put before the movie starts. Like an omen, that’s something is going to turn bad, there was going to be a big drama, that the world is going to turn to hell."
There was no clear ending in mind while the actors were improvising. According to Noé, the only narrative directive given to the cast about the end of the story was that "the most fragile ones would die at the end! Only the strong survive." The interview tapes featured early in the film were not originally planned, but Noé's line producer suggested that the cast should have talked more in the film, and came up with the idea of interviewing them for possible extra footage for the home media release; it was eventually added to the film. Those scenes were also completely improvised.
While he had also featured drugs in previous films, Noé decided to have a different approach in Climax: "I didn’t want to do any visual or sound effects to reproduce the feeling you are having when you’re on drugs. I thought it would be funny to do it the other way, like shoot almost documentary style with long cuts, seeing how the effects of drugs and alcohol are experienced, how its seen from the outside. Like how it all shows and not how it feels." He also left the cast free to have their characters react to LSD in whichever way they preferred, as people can react very differently to it in real life: "They were all quite keen to get to the second part of the shoot, with the drugs and everything going crazy. I showed them all these videos; people high on LSD, mushrooms, crack, whatever. Then after, I asked each one how they would want to portray their own craziness."
The film was released in France on 19 September 2018 by Wild Bunch Distribution and in Belgium on 21 November 2018 by O'Brother Distribution. It was released in the United Kingdom on 21 September 2018 by Arrow Films, and in the United States on 1 March 2019 by A24.
For the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, the promotional material for the film humorously addressed the polarising responses and controversies surrounding Noé's previous films, stating: "You despised I Stand Alone, hated Irréversible, execrated Enter the Void, cursed Love, come celebrate Climax." A VHS of the film was sold for a limited stock of 100 by A24.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 70% based on 166 reviews, with an average rating of 6.83/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Challenging and rewarding in equal measure, Climax captures writer-director Gaspar Noé working near his technically brilliant and visually distinctive peak." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 67 out of 100 based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Noé's direction, Benoît Debie's cinematography, the film's music, and the performances (both in terms of acting and dance) were praised; Boutella, in particular, was singled out. However, some criticised the film's violence and story. Critics agreed that the film had a unique style, but while most found it to be a quality, other reviewers heavily disliked it.
In a positive review, Joseph Walsh of Time Out stated: "Inventive and seductive, this infernal chamber piece will be sure to divide opinion. The camera plunges into the chaos, melding physical theatre with a palette of fiendish reds and impish greens, all accompanied by throbbing techno. Part musical, part political treatise, and with more than a wink to Dante’s Divine Comedy, Noé is at his most decadent and devilish." Hau Chu of The Washington Post also gave a positive review, stating that "Noé has made what might be his most accessible and, yes, tender film to date, teasing the idea of heavenly bliss - before heading straight to hell."
Ray Pride of Newcity gave a very positive review, stating: "Climax is a rude, refined, gyroscopic, hurtling mash-up... of heaven and hell [with] a bravura dance number with a ravishing range of bodies in orchestrations of sensual motion and the camera brandishing its lavish mobility for moments on end."  Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Richard Roeper was less positive: although he highly praised the various dance scenes, calling them "a jarring, beautiful, dangerously adventurous symphony of arms and legs and torsos, bursting with originality and sexuality and almost violent physicality, all set to a relentless and seemingly endless hip-hop beat. Seriously great stuff", he criticized the dialogue and horror scenes, stating that the film "turns into a sick circus of atrocities", which "just as often is more annoying and attention-seeking than dramatically effective, and the increasingly absurdist storyline. Alas, with the notable exception of the empathetic Boutella, the cast of Climax consists primarily of dancers who are not actors. And as actors, they’re really good dancers."
Scott Craven of The Arizona Republic panned the film, giving it a of 1 out of 5 rating and stating, "Climax is actually two movies, one in which you hang out at a party with young dancers who are as wearisome as they are flexible, and the other with the same group on acid. Neither is the least bit interesting. [...] Gaspar Noe doesn’t care what you think. He make movies to provoke, if not to inspire annoyance, even hate. When a mom locks her young son in an electrical closet (inside is a menacing circuit panel that, if animate, would swallow the child whole), even those without kids cringe as the boy screams for help. Noe laughs at your discomfort." He concluded saying: "You just have to figure out if it's a ride you want to take".
Regarding the overall positive response to Climax, unlike most of his films which were more polarizing or controversial, Noé stated jokingly: "I must be doing something wrong. I have to take a long holiday and rethink my career." In another he claimed: "Even my father tell me it's his favorite film, and there's a lot of directors who told me it was my best film. I never worked so little on something and I was never congratulated so much."
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s)||Result||Ref(s)|
|Cannes Film Festival||May 2018||Art Cinema Award||Gaspar Noé||Won|||
|Dublin Film Critics Circle Awards||20 December 2018||Best Cinematography||Benoît Debie||Nominated|||
|Festival du nouveau cinéma||October 2018||People's Choice Award||Gaspar Noé||Nominated|||
|Lumières Award||February 4, 2019||Best Director||Gaspar Noé||Nominated|||
|Best Cinematography||Benoît Debie||Nominated|
|Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival||14 July 2018||Narcisse Award Best Feature Film||Gaspar Noé||Won|||
|Méliès d'Argent for Best European Fantastic Feature Film||Won|
|Sitges Film Festival||13 October 2018||Best Film - Secció Oficial Fantàstic||Won|||
|Tromsø International Film Festival||20 January 2019||Aurora Award||Nominated|||
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