Noé's latest tour de force is a remixed take on horror.
Noé's latest tour de force is a remixed take on horror.
Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON
French-Argentine director Gaspar Noé's films speak to the “language of nightmares,” an ideal he's attributed to his idol Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch’s Eraserhead. Like Kubrick and Lynch, Noé tells stories of hermetic worlds that slowly become treacherous, but his new film Climax, now open nationwide, goes where few auteurs have dared go: the club.
Set in a nightmare of sick beats and psychoactive choreography, Climax follows a troupe of young dancers who, after a marathon crunk- and vogue-style dance-off in a converted gymnasium, go from substance-fueled camaraderie to madness thanks to a batch of LSD-laced punch. The characters (all but Sofia Boutella’s played by non-actors) continue to dance as their bad trips devolve into contortionistic violence—merging body horror (see: Eraserhead) with the energizing choreo of films like Step Up and You Got Served. Lynch, it’s your move.
Here, Noé explains the club-based disturbia of Climax, discussing everything from his surprise at the film’s positive reviews to his trans-inclusive casting.
VMAN How are you hoping viewers will react to the movie?
Gaspar Noé Before I started making the movie, I’d wanted to make a serious film, a drier one. One that would make people cry, in a very adult way, but [one] like Luis Buñuel. He never made a “serious” movie in his whole life. My dream would also be that young kids go to the movie and see how bad a party can turn. I would be very happy to learn one day that people decided to dance because of the movie.
VMAN There were times I was disturbed by the movie, although in a thought-provoking way. Have the reactions you’ve heard thus far been what you were expecting?
GN I didn’t expect it to get an R rating [because] I think it is, graphically, almost as violent as my previous film, [Love]. But I was told that, because there were no physical genitals, the movie could get an R rating instead of NC-17. Which made me happy, since kids who might want to see it just need to go with an older brother or father or teacher. When I was 12, my favorite movies were the ones that were not for my age.
VMAN How is it distinct from your previous films?
GN Since my first movie, the [likelihood] of bad reviews seemed to be getting higher and higher. I thought it would continue in this way, so I was surprised that, when [Climax] was shown in Cannes, it was so well received by audiences and also by critics. My producers said [it was] because the characters in Climax are, in the beginning, far more positive. You can identify with them more so than in my other movies.
VMAN I’m curious how you went about casting. Did you seek out dancers with that kind of likeable quality?
GN The main thing was trying to find the best voguers, crunkers, ballroom dancers… I made selections by watching videos on the net or going to ballrooms and battles. I met about 50 dancers and ultimately picked 23. I had no preconception of what they would look like, what the [ratio] of boys and girls, or what their sexual preferences or backgrounds, would be. At the end it was very clear who were the best, both in terms of dancing and charisma on screen.
VMAN How long did you rehearse before you started shooting?
GN [Choreographer] Nina McNeely, who is based in LA and was recommended to me by Sofia Boutella, arrived to Paris on a Wednesday, and I arrived at noon that Monday [to start shooting]. We shot the choreography first and then shot the [remaining scenes]. The whole process took 15 days. If there is someone to congratulate, it’s mostly Nina and the dancers.
VMAN Did the dancers know each other prior to being cast in the film?
GN There were six or seven different dance “families” [within the cast]. Initially I thought there would be tensions because they were very different, and on a collective project like a movie, there are always fights. But this was the first time I’ve made a movie with no tensions at all—not behind the camera, in front of the camera, anywhere.
VMAN Why do you think that was?
GN Nina had this very good idea that before rehearsing the choreography, she would ask them to do a big battle. After one day they were all in total admiration of each other’s dancing skills and they all became really good friends.
VMAN There are a number of queer and trans cast members, but not everyone’s queer or trans status is commented upon, like that of Claude Emmanuel’s character, the mother of a small child. Was there any thought behind that?
GN When I started casting the movie, I had no [prerequisites] of age or gender—male, female, or trans. I just knew I needed 23 characters. When I met Claude, she seemed very fragile; she was very funny and fragile. Her present story or past story was a non-issue. I just thought she was the best actor to play the part of a mother with guilt.
VMAN You’re known for casting non-actors. How did you go about preparing this cast for their roles?
GN These dancers had almost no experience with drugs, besides joints; they were very healthy. We didn’t discuss in advance, but I showed them videos of druggy footage on the net: people on crack, being arrested by the cops or in the hospital. It made them laugh a lot. I asked them to create their own character, using whatever inspiration to show what going overboard with drugs looks like.
VMAN Music is obviously a big part of the film. How did you go about curating the soundtrack?
GN When I started dancing to techno, my two favorite tracks ever were “Rollin’ and Scratchin’ by Daft Punk and “Windowlicker” by Aphex Twin, so I was so happy to have the rights for both in the movie. And also “Angie” by The Rolling Stones, because I couldn’t stop dancing with girls [to it]. There was no instrumental recording of “Angie” available at all, so we ended up getting the rights to re-record it with musicians in Paris. So that instrumental was created especially for me.
VMAN Did you have experience with the kind of dance seen in the film, personally or by watching others?
GN Dancing is my sport; it helps me stay alive. [But] I have seen good parties turn awful. We’d go to Berghain, this big club in Berlin, three nights in a row, with people doing all types of drugs and dancing to techno music. At midnight it’s great. Then by five, six in the morning, people can turn into monsters. And it becomes bad. You want to lose control because life is tedious but sometimes people lose it too much.