Christopher Owens saw Climax @the QFT on the 27the October.
Last showing of this, the first film for the former enfant terrible Gaspar Noe since 2015's Love. And, with this being the first of his films to actually be certified by the MPAA in America, there was a sense going into this that he was losing his touch.
Thankfully, that wasn't the case.
Opening with an aerial shot of a lady obviously in great pain having some kind of fit in the snow sets up everything that we can expect in the main film: beauty, violence, reaction and stark scenery. Then throwing up (what would be) the end credits works as a marker: abandon hope all ye who enter here, for this is something you will not escape.
Watched by the viewer on an ancient (by 1996 standards) TV with VHS copies of Susperia and Possession on one side, and books on Fritz Lang on the other, we then meet the characters in the film. All dancers that are keen to represent France and travel to America. All are French, and represent different aspects of French society (bi-curious white male, straight and gay black males, lesbians, mothers).
Immediately, we see that although the characters share a similar pride of their country, they're also keen to make it to the States and really represent France on the world stage. And, bearing in mind the opening scene with the snow, there is an uneasy undertone going on here (even though the interviews are rather banal at times). Disjointed narratives are meant to do that, but to achieve in a rather ordinary scene is a sign that the film is working.
Then events take a turn for the worse. In the most horrendous fashion that will have you both looking away and enthralled.
Let's not be bashful: this is, hands down, the best film of 2018.
The reasons in support of this claim are many, but let's start with the immediate: the film is a visual treat (the various camera setups and use of lighting induce an almost psychedelic and dizzying effect, as well as accentuating the horror on display), a visceral experience (one scene garnered a collective wince from the audience, a later one reaped an even bigger one) and an aural nightmare (the use of music in it's isolated surrounding is much more threatening than a traditional score).
While there may be little in the way of a traditional plot, this ambiguity allows for a multitude of interpretations: why set it in 1996? Is this an attempt at playing with our collective memories? Coupled with the presence of the French tricolour in the film, why does the film proclaim itself "A French film and proud of it?" Is this a parody of the traditional French move (in the same way the appalling A Serbian Film was supposedly a commentary on post war Serbia)? Is it a commentary on the racial tensions that the country has experienced in recent years? Is it about a "new" France: a more free, liberal one that attempts to shake off the shackles of its history?
Is it all of these strands or none of them? Who knows, but it makes for an enriching viewing experience.
Ultimately, the biggest ace the film has is self awareness. It knows all too well that it's morally bankrupt and, as a result, isn't afraid to show you the aftermath. All too often (the likes of Resurrection Man and 8MM spring to mind), a lot of films of this ilk have a certain hypocrisy encoded into their narrative, where the film pretends to be horrified at what it is showing you, but the camera work and editing suggests otherwise.
Here, Noe has no qualms about showing you the downside of group activities and, every time you think that is the last "act", you're proven wrong in the most stark fashion. With that serving as the basis for the film, all you can do is sit back and stare into the abyss slack jawed.
➽ Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212