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Short Take: Climax

(Gaspar Noé, France/Belgium, A24, Opening March 1)

Youth culture gets a taste of its own medicine in Gaspar Noé’s apocalyptish musical. In the latest goofy provocation from a director who never saw a space—dank dungeon or sunny bedroom—upon which he couldn’t unleash a swirly-twirly camera, Noé puts a pansexual, multicultural dance troupe through its paces before sending them to hell. Certainly a step up from the unwatchable Love and the idiotic Thornton Wilder–meets–de Sade death trip Enter the Void, the first act is so enthrallingly performed by the extraordinary cast and the cinematography so rhythmically—even patiently—attuned to their movements that I momentarily crowned Noé the new demon king of the movie musical.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the film gets swallowed up by the usual unimaginative Noé obsessions—paranoia and jealousy, sexual betrayal and licentiousness, drugs and death—which leave the spirited, often improvising performers stranded. Once the partiers’ punch bowl of sangria is mysteriously spiked with LSD, they’re just lurching and retching around the pulsating, labyrinthine back halls of an after-hours school gymnasium, praying for the light of morning and the hallucinogens to wear off. Naturally one of the women has brought along her cherubic little son, and of course, Noé—always one to pull on the heartstrings—isn’t above putting a child in danger.

What a nasty conceit it is, transforming a fresh, diverse cast of lithe dancers into sweaty beasts ever lumbering toward the next amoral gratification. And he seems to take such delight in it. Call it Noé’s Glee.