Beyond Fest Starts With A CLIMAX

Gaspar Noe's latest - and greatest? - film sets the bar high for this year's incarnation of the fan-favorite fest.

Climax is a Gaspar Noé film, so for many people, that will determine whether or not they want to see it. And I get it; I find myself less and less interested in anything that might have the "extreme" label attached to it as I get older, and his last couple films were also quite long on top of that (Enter the Void clocked in at 161 minutes), making it easy to just say "no" and move on. But anyone with an interest in filmmaking craft would be a fool to skip out on Climax, as it offers some of the most astonishing and impressive camerawork I have seen in ages, possibly ever. Watching it unfold on the historic and giant Egyptian screen, where it opened this year's Beyond Fest, was an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. 

And it was short! It's only 95 minutes long, which after his last two feels like watching a TV episode. But given the nature of the film it'd be hard to go on much longer, as it's largely consisted of a few (very) long takes, but unlike those in his other films, these are quite complicated in nature, with a camera weaving in and out of a group of twenty or so dancers. Basically they're all on the level of the ones in Boogie Nights or Goodfellas, but in many ways even more impressive as they are choreographed with actors who seemingly never stop dancing, without a single "background extra" who just had to sit there and not screw it up. The plot concerns a dance troupe who are having a bit of a party after a rehearsal and find themselves poisoned by sangria laced with LSD, causing them all to trip in a variety of ways. Some turn violent, some just get sick, some get horny, and others just suffer a mental collapse, like the woman who fears for her young son as everyone around them freaks out, so she locks him in a small closet with a large electric box for his safety. 

Russ already reviewed the film and he's a lot smarter than me, so click on his piece for a more traditional look at it. I'm just here to let you know that if you hear the filmmaker's name and run for the hills, you should reconsider. For starters, it's much less graphic than the others; there's very little on-screen violence and most of the characters are actually rather sweet and loving people, despite some bickering and jealousy among them. It's not a "tough watch", in other words; there's a dance montage that might wear you down a bit as we see every character perform a solo dance (from a locked-down overhead shot that makes it occasionally hard to tell which character we're watching), and the finale is mostly presented upside down, but compared to the more infamous scenes in Irreversible this is nothing. 

If you are indeed having trouble with these bits, I implore you to just watch the three big long takes that come before it, especially the one where we first really meet our protagonists. We first see them in a series of interview shots, but their personalities become apparent as we watch them finish up their routine and talk among themselves. Noé (operating the camera himself) follows one character over to another, then follows that second person to a third, and so on, for what seems like 20 unbroken minutes. By the end of it I knew a lot about these people (mostly played by actors with precious little experience), and whenever this or that conversation turned to something less compelling to me I couldn't help but stay fully engaged just by the sheer craft on display. The people in the background continue their interactions and "business" throughout the take, giving you the impression that Noé could glide over to any one of them at any given moment and pick up on their drama in progress. There are no traditional edits in the film; no closeups or cutaways, it's all just happening as it would before your own two eyes, albeit with Noé controlling where they are looking. 

It'd wow me even if everyone was standing still, but with everyone constantly dancing, it goes from a "Wow, that's kinda cool" to "I honestly believe I'd die of shame if I was the one to screw up something this complicated and beautiful." With Noé more or less dancing himself as he makes his way around these constantly gyrating actors (a lot of them, don't forget - it's not like he's just following one person around a room of extras. Everyone seemingly gets about the same amount of screentime unless they are removed from the film for one reason or another), I couldn't help but think how much I would love to be a fly on the wall and watch the filming of one of these sequences. The planning, the trial and error process (there's a big mirror on one wall, for extra fun), the balancing of the ensemble (speaking in largely improvised dialogue - the script was only a few pages long)... I don't know about you, but I'd be just as riveted to watch that as I was seeing the finished product. It might very well be my favorite film of the year, both for its surprising content (I swear, there are a couple of moments that are legitimately sweet!) and the realization that the likes of Avengers and Jurassic World, impressive as they may have been, failed to create as much awe in this moviegoer as a filmmaker operating his own camera, weaving around a single non-descript room with a bunch of people who never acted before.