climax | gaspar noe | sofia boutella | romain guillermic | souhelia yacoub | drama | music | thriller | france | belgium | kiddy smile | claude-emmanuelle gajan-maull | giselle palmer | taylor kastle | thea carla schott | sharleen temple | lea vlamos | alaia alsafir
Director: Gaspar Noé
Writer: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic and Souhelia Yacoub
This was a film that I heard about when it was making its festival rounds and it had me intrigued. Podcasts I listen to gave some non-spoiler reviews and from what I gathered, it had been kind of hit or miss with those I listen to. That first viewing was in the theater where I thought it was solid. I’m now giving it a second viewing as part of the Summer Series for The Podcast Under the Stairs. To get into this, the synopsis is French dancers gather in a remote, empty school building to rehearse on a wintry night. The all-night celebration morphs into a hallucinatory nightmare when they learn their sangria is laced with LSD.
We kick this off with a woman walking through what looks to be snow. She is screaming and the film then informs us that this is based on real events that happened in France back in 1996. The film also interestingly enough follows this up with the full credits before shifting to interviews of all of the dancers that are in the film. They are asked similar questions and it is quite quick, but we really get an idea of each of their characters. This is further done when we see them breaking off into pairs to tell more about themselves or to make comments about other dancers.
In between the television interviews and them breaking off is an impressive performance. This is actually the rehearsal they are there for. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not great at dancing and I really don’t understand how people can move this way, but this was fun to watch. At the end of the performance, there is food and drinks for everyone to unwind and celebrate. The problem is that the sangria is laced with LSD. We then see the people as they start to experience their trip as they go for their carnal desires, blame those around them for spiking the drink and a lot of madness. We see the truth of each of the characters as this becomes a psychedelic nightmare.
I wanted to keep this recap short as this film doesn’t really have a lot to it without spoiling different things. What I mean there is that I’d be going through different ‘events’ piece by piece. I found it interesting that I read this film really didn’t have a script. What they had was about 5 pages to start it off and the rest of it was improvised. I do find this to be quite impressive. The film also feels very Hitchcockian as it has extremely long takes and it feels like it all one continuous shot at different times. It is able to do this as characters move around the perspective as it jumps to follow what the next person is doing. This involves some good rehearsal and interesting camera work.
This film has an arthouse way of telling this story as well. The issue of abortion is raised as a character thinks they could be pregnant. We see that this bothers Selva (Sofia Boutella). I believe she is talking to Lou (Souheila Yacoub). There is a flash of a message that birth is a miracle. There are a couple more of these that existence is a fleeting illusion and death is also a magical thing as well. This commentary plays out later in a horrific way. Lou is bullied and we also see something happen with Emmanuelle (Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull) and her son Tito (Vince Galliot Cumant).
We also get a lot about sexuality. David (Romain Guillermic) is a player and he admits to it. Others around him know it too, but he still on the prowl. He his sights set on Selva, who he claims to have hooked up with before, as well as a lesbian couple of Psyche (Thea Carla Scott) and Ivana (Sharleen Temple). He does admit he would hook up with any of the women that are there. There are a couple of guys who also talk about how they work as a team to hook-up with women. I know one goes by Cyborg (Alexandre Moreau) and I think his cousin is Naab (Naab). I find this interesting that they are open about their sexuality and what they are looking for. It is misogynistic though in some of the things they say. Along with the lesbian couple, there are also some gay men as well, which their plight I found intriguing with the other men around. One of them is named Daddy (Kiddy Smile) and I think the other is Taylor (Taylor Kastle). On top of that, there is the concept of rape, incest and a horrible parent as well that is explored.
I will admit though, I did have some issues with the pacing of the film. It takes entirely took long in my opinion before we get into it. I’m come to realize that we need it though. We get the two sections of interviews to get an idea of the characters before things go wild. I thought it was solid once the LSD starts to kick in and we see the craziness happening. Part of this is the amount of characters and the director trying to introduce and let us get to know everyone. I’ll be honest that I don’t know the names of most of the cast and it took this second viewing to piece this together. I did like how things end up once we get to the climax of this film.
Despite me not being able to tell you who all of the characters are, I thought the acting was good. I was a big fan of Boutella and I liked when her character was the focus. I should point out; this film doesn’t have a star per say we follow. It shifts around to everyone in this film at one point or another. I’d say that the movie does well in giving us enough of each and following different interactions to build tension. We have enough different personalities to make this film work.
This brings me to the effects. For the most part, there aren’t a lot used. I wasn’t sure since I know that Gaspar Noé films I’ve seen in the past can be quite brutal. We do get some of that. There is a scene with someone being set on fire that I liked. I think the bigger thing would be the camera work. We don’t get the screen going too crazy to show the effects of the drugs, but there is some good lighting. We also get the camera showing us things upside down, which is a solid allegory to what the drug is doing to them. I have to give credit for these aspects.
Next would be the score of the film. I thought the music selections were amazing for this film. It isn’t necessarily my type of music, but it fits the film in multiple ways. First is the dance performance, which matches perfectly. Then once everything starts to go crazy, the music becomes haunting. When characters leave the room it is playing, it is quieter, but that almost makes it a bit unnerving. I have to give a lot of credit for the soundtrack for this film, especially since it got my heart rate going with anxiety.
Now with that said, during our set-up of the movie, it can feel a bit boring. That is needed though to get you introduced to our players. Once we get to the craziness, I was locked in and there might have been more than once that I was shocked by something I saw. I thought this film had good acting and it does have a solid build up once we really get into it. The effects, how it was shot and soundtrack were great. There were some choices by Noé that weren’t necessarily needed in the film, but this is a solid hallucinatory nightmare like the synopsis said. I found this film to be above average after this both viewings though.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10