"If I think about the future of cinema as art, I shiver" (Y. Ozu, 1959)

Climax (Gaspar Noé)

Thursday, 06 December 2018 01:42

A bad acid trip gone awry

Giona A. Nazzaro

You have to hand it to Gaspar Noé: he sure knows how to catch the viewer off guard. As much as you may dislike him, Noé always finds a new way for you to hate him. All this obviously looks like a perfectly oiled self-promotion engine that works brilliantly, especially in the festival circuit and in the programmers' outback. The director himself came up with a brilliant press release in which he mocked critics about their dislike for his work (the short version for it is basically, “Now try this!”). But what looked like a brazen act of bravado is actually, if you pay closer attention, a request for a conversation that is yet to be had on his work. Because if you shed away all the gimmicks and effects that create the white noise which is the stuff people talk and write about when they think of Noé, what you are left with are still images. Sometimes, quite unique images that conceal rather interesting films. Let’s put it this way: what if Gaspar Noé was the equivalent (with all the shades of obvious differences in-between...) of William Castle in the European art-house auteur-driven cinema? Castle knew how to get some serious kicks out of his audience and promote himself as a patented and trustworthy “shlockmeister”; “tingling” them to get jolts and chills worth their money. Noé evidently dreams of being an important auteur with a capital A. He grew up devouring tons of films, the “good” ones with the “bad” ones; he craves recognition even though he might pretend otherwise. On the other hand, he simply cannot resist a “good” trick. He loves to play with cinema. He has this carnival side to him that comes directly from the cheaper and sleazier B-movies he adored on VHS (some of the same ones he tributes with an irritatingly sincere homage in the opening of Climax). Sometimes it works (depending on your taste...), sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, you just get glued to the screen even though you can’t help thinking something has gone completely wrong while at the same time you reluctantly admire his childlike arrogance that gets its claws in you through sheer willpower. Climax works like this. It (seems to) offer(s) itself like a reflection on the French state of the union in the wake of the Bataclan massacre proudly declaring its Frenchness (like a long delayed nod to the expired “French touch” in house music...) and thus immediately injecting the viewer with the suspicion “Is this the way self-styled cool auteurs have gone Macron?”. But you need to hang on. A fierce and frenzied choreography, filmed in one breathtaking take, unfolds for what seems to be an eternity... and then it goes on and on. But some cracks begin to appear... while the long take goes on. The perfectly-knit unity of the dance ensemble falls apart while the film gets tighter and tighter. A thought begins to loom: could this be Noé’s take on Argento’s Suspiria? All the clues are there: a dance academy, a mastermind that drives everyone else crazy, a huis clos, the overbearing presence of pulsating music. Climax is Gaspar Noé literally taking his cinema into the void. Relentless and brutal, yet exhilaratingly intoxicating, he literally raises a hymn to the yet unseen possibilities of cinema. The physicality of it all is the perfect reminder that cinema is still something that you craft. Bodies, lights, movement, angles: all these elements come together in Noé’s Climax in a declaration of love: this is how we still make cinema. The slightly disquieting authoritarian stance of Irreversible is gone, but Climax is no less discomforting. You can feel that the architect twirling above has let go of his grip on the viewer’s eyes (it already happened with Love) but the outcome isn’t bleak any lesser. Cinema is no longer a collective dream (or project...) but a bad acid trip gone awry. Climax is the film showing how France (and the rest of Europe and the world as well...) rips herself apart. It’s ugly, violent, but weirdly fascinating as well. Noé’s long take feels like a documentary observational strategy. An exercise in entropy. As if cinema were really the very last element trying to keep it all together... but it is obviously bound to fail. Noé’s sardonic and bitter grin suggests that his film should have been branded anti-Climax... “not with a bang, but a whimper”. And, for once, even though some hints were already available in Enter the Void and Love, Noé really seems to care. Which is good news.



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