Argentine-born French filmmaker Gaspar Noe is known for his uncompromising storytelling (see also Irreversible, Into the Void and of course that 3D cum shot in Love). He was happy to sit down with Boyz to chat about his provocative new film, Climax.
Intriguingly, Climax opens with something new for Noe: a celebration of youthful exuberance and physicality that’s photographed expertly and performed beautifully by an ensemble of 21 young dancers. Although this being Noe, the rest of the film is trip to the depths of hell.
It’s set in 1996, as a dance company has finally mastered the elaborate vogueing routine they’ve been rehearsing for three months. Shot in one jaw-dropping take, it’s simply breathtaking, leading into an equally inventive battle sequence. But as they party into the night in the empty school building where they’re living, they realise that someone has spiked the sangria with acid. Gripped with paranoia, they begin assigning blame, turning on each other. And most of them are also trying to get one of the other dancers into bed, happily blurring gender lines between gay and straight.
The film is shot in long, snaky takes as the camera follows characters down the maze-like corridors or soars above the crowded dance chaos of the auditorium. As it goes, some of these people come into fine focus, including Sofia Boutella (one of the few professional actors in the film), Romain Guillermic (as a guy trying to seduce a girl who has an oddly jealous brother) and Lakhdar Dridi (as a young gay guy trying to pop his cherry).
Some of Noe’s touches are a little over the top, especially in the hellish final sequence, which merges the sex and violence. But this is such breathtaking filmmaking that it demands to be scene on the big screen. And it has a lot to say about the raw, ugly humanity lurking inside us all.
Of course, Noe has never been known to hedge away from explicit sex or violence. He calls this film “a kind of dance documentary mixed with an Italian giallo”, referring to the iconic gothic horror genre. “But I have never done a film that was so open to what the actors wanted to do in front of the camera,” he says. “I had a plot, but it was just a starting point. It’s more about the energy, what the actors are doing.”
Aged between 18 and 23 (Boutella and gay DJ Kiddy Smile are 10 years older, and Noe calls them “the mother and father of the house”), most of these dancers had never acted before. Noe was impressed by their fearlessness. “Most people in France are sexual from age 15,” he says. “And these dancers have been partying, sleeping with boys and girls, so nothing in the movie shocked them. I told them to give me their ideas and just have as much fun as they could in the first half, dancing in sexy and sensual ways that I just had to film! Then they could enjoy pretending to go crazy in the second half. And they were all hyper-excited to get the first half out of the way so they could go wild.”
Noe says that the big difference between 20-year-olds in the mid-90s and today is that now they have a phone in their hands all the time. “It makes sense to their universe, but it’s an issue,” he says. “Give your child a smartphone and they will never have dinner with you or read a book again! It changes the world.”
He says that a more positive change lately is that everyone is more open about sexuality. “But that’s not the subject of the film,” he continues. “This is about a community creating something together and then losing control. It’s the story of the Tower of Babel, and how easy it is to fail when you achieve something. Within this, there are love stories that cross gender lines, and friendships that grow strong and later degrade. It’s the most human process: it’s hard to find success, but easy to destroy it.”
Climax opens in cinemas on Friday 21 September.