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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Climax’ is a wild dance toward the extreme

It played only a week, but the film "Climax" made quite an impression on those who saw it. That's not to say that it the impression necessarily was good. Following is a review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

You may not know the name Gaspar Noé, and you can be forgiven for that. Noé is an Argentine-French filmmaker whose work is somewhat limited – he’s made only five feature films since 1998 – and his films aren’t the kind to play at your average neighborhood multiplex.

That’s because Noé is what you call an extreme filmmaker, which means that he tackles subjects – murder, rape, incest, what have you – and explores them in ways that both stretch the imagination and test the boundaries of what even the most liberal among us might consider the furthest limits of taste.

Which might not be so bad except that while doing so he attempts to convince us, his audience, that he has an actual point to make.

I’ve seen only three of Noé’s films. His first feature, “I Stand Alone,” is the story of a butcher who, in addition to being a violent thug, ends up sexually abusing his daughter. His follow-up, “Irreversible,” was a cleverly constructed depiction of a single evening in which a woman (Monica Bellucci) is viciously raped and beaten and, in response, her boyfriend (Vincent Cassel) tracks down the man he thinks is the rapist and beats him to death.

Did I say “Irreversible” was cleverly constructed? Yes, because Noé tells the story backward, beginning with the horror and ending with a pleasantness that we know is only a precursor for the unspeakable events to come. And that construction arguably is what gives the film its sense of gravity, making it more than mere exploitation – even if most viewers would rather drink radiator fluid than watch it.

Which likely also holds true for “Climax,” Noé’s latest film – which just ended a short run at the Magic Lantern Theater. “Climax” introduces us to a French dance troupe that, on the eve of an American tour, holds a rehearsal in a remote schoolhouse. After a final run-through, the dancers celebrate by listening to music, by doing more dancing, by talking trash about each other, by smoking (some of them) and by drinking (again, some of them).

It appears, though, that someone has spiked the Sangria with LSD – at which point the party gradually evolves into a kind of sybaritic spectacle that further devolves into that kind of orgy that Caligula might have organized, involving – following some favorite Noé themes here – rape, beatings, emasculation, urination, death and, yes, incest.

Like “Irreversible,” “Climax” – this may be hard to believe – has some qualities, at least during the first 50 minutes (the point at which the drug starts to take effect). Noé begins his film by introducing his cast, each of the 20 dancers giving us a brief rundown on who they are by answering questions posed by an off-screen interviewer.

Then in an extended sequence, he has the dancers work out their intricate, gymnastic dance routine, shot in a single take, the camera buzzing in and out, up and down, making us less observers than part of the riveting action

At the 50-minute mark, though, Noé heads into an aesthetic netherworld, the point of which only he is capable of seeing.