Wonderland.

GASPAR NOé

The master of provocation on his trippy dance masterpiece, Climax.

Gaspar Noe's Climax - dancers
Gaspar Noe's Climax - dancers

Sitting down to one of Gaspar Noé’s films is like having your brain tumbled round violently on a too-hot cycle on the washing machine. A trippy, disorientating experience that leaves you shiver-pulsating and short-of-breath – like your head’s straining with the barrage of shocking visuals. Irreversible, Enter the Void, Love. The shock maverick delivers time and time again – and his latest offering, Climax, is no exception.

The action is loosely based on a true story of a French dance troupe in the 90s who have their booze spiked with LSD at an after-party. In Noé’s intense, body-shaking rendition, the viewer is taken on a satanic, orgy-style nightmare, filled with club bangers (Aphex Twin, Gary Numan, Soft Cell and more pound the soundtrack), all to eyes-closed (just me?), flinching effect.

We sat down with the iconic French auteur and chatted about his latest masterpiece, which was shot in 15 days…

Gaspar Noe cameo in Climax

Gaspar Noé cameo in Climax

Gaspar Noe cameo in Climax
Gaspar Noé cameo in Climax

Where did you get inspiration for the film from?
From lots of 70s movies. Like The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, a movie by [David] Cronenberg called Shivers. It’s all about people creating something together, and failing in the second half. It’s like the [biblical] story of the Tower of Babel. Mankind can create big things. And then with the influence of alcohol, or some accident, everything falls.

So what made you want to focus on dance?
I’m obsessed with good dancers. I don’t watch sports on TV, but I like watching acrobats, and I spend loads of time in nightclubs. If someone is a really good dancer, I’m hypnotised. Last December, I was invited to a voguing ballroom. I couldn’t believe the energy and the crowd – and then I thought, I’d love to film these kind of people. I’d also seen that movie by David LaChapelle called Rize, about Krumping. I was amazed by these young kids dancing like they were possessed by evil forces. Then I thought, why don’t I do a catastrophe movie with dancers?

I heard you turned the film around quite quickly?
The whole project happened very quickly. We started casting and preparing the movie at the beginning of January, and we were shooting one month later in an abandoned school in a suburb in Paris. It was the most joyful and quick shooting I’ve ever done. I’m proud because it was mostly improvised. Even if the second part is narratively dark, it’s still a funny movie.

Which bits were improvised?
Apart from the choreography, everything was improvised.

So how did you go about casting everyone and finding all the dancers?
[Actress] Sofia Boutella has been dancing for 15 years. And even though she stopped dancing a few years ago to start acting, she said “I’ll be happy to dance in your movie again.” The other dancers I found mostly in ballrooms, in Krump battles, and on the internet. And there’s dance websites where many dancers put their own videos on YouTube.

So they’re weren’t actors then?
No, no one besides Sofia Boutella. They said “are you going to give us lines to read and to rehearse?” I said “no, just come to the set and do whatever you want, I’ll never push you to do anything against your will and if you have any ideas please tell them to me.”

Gaspar Noe's Climax - Sofia Boutella looking in mirror
Gaspar Noe's Climax - Sofia Boutella looking in mirror
Gaspar Noé cameo in Climax

The LSD-spiked sangria is the cause of the descent into madness – what made you want to focus on drugs?
It’s about losing control. I remember as a teenager when I was 14, I would host parties at my home. And I liked sangria, it was the first alcohol I ever drank. But you seriously don’t need drugs to loose control, alcohol is more than enough. I’ve seen so many more fights linked to alcohol – it can turn you crazy.

I saw the first ten-minute opening scene is all one continuous shot – how challenging was it to create that?
It took between 15 and 16 takes because we didn’t rehearse. So we started shooting and of course the first 8 or 9 takes were useless. But we’d watch them with the dancers all together and look at how we could we do it better for the next one. Then at the end of the day we’d get it.

So how long did it actually take to shoot?
The whole film was shot in 15 days – it was a whole rush. But the choreographer is a genius. That opening scene is so good.

Gaspar Noe's Climax - dancers talking
Gaspar Noe's Climax - dancers talking
Gaspar Noé cameo in Climax

How did the choreographer make everyone appear high?
We’d shoot and she’d tell one guy “you’re too mellow,” or “start screaming while you dance”, or “you should run behind the other characters”. The funny part is all the dancers were all desperate to get to the second half of the shoot, so they could go crazy.

It’s pretty trippy stuff. There’s a part in the film where everyone’s losing control, and one of the dancer’s bones looks like they’re breaking…
That guy is a contortionist. He wasn’t from any of the dance families from France. We were talking about unusual dancers, or psychotic dance styles and someone said “oh, there’s this contortionist in Congo.” And he found us this website for a TV show in Congo, and there he was. So we got in touch with him, and flew him to Paris.

At some points it’s very visually disturbing…
The film is about a safe place turning into a madhouse. People hurting people and screaming. And the contortionist, he was incredible. Sometimes we’d walk into a room and he would be sitting with his head the other way around, and some people would scream “what the fuck is that!”

How do you feel Climax is different to all your other films?
The movie’s shorter but there’s this incredible energy in the dancers. You want to hug them, be with them, and dance like them. They’re very hypnotic – more so than probably the more complex, traumatised characters of my previous movies. And it’s probably the funniest one. And because it’s funny, it’s more gentle than the other movies.

Climax hits cinemas on 21 September

Words
Maybelle Morgan
Gaspar Noe's Climax - dance scene
Gaspar Noe's Climax - dance scene
Gaspar Noé cameo in Climax
Gaspar Noe's Climax - Sofia Boutella screaming
Gaspar Noe's Climax - Sofia Boutella screaming
Gaspar Noé cameo in Climax
GASPAR NOé

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