Climax trailer

French-Argentinian director Gaspar Noé creates extreme cinematic experiences. His films are mind-bending examinations of the darkest parts of humanity. Noé’s subject matter is extreme; his films explore grief, abortion, drug use, incest, abuse, rape, and more. His methods are no less extreme. He has a reputation for unorthodox filmmaking choices, like hiring Japanese yakuza as security for Enter the Void in order to gain access to the Tokyo underworld or using audio frequencies designed to make viewers physically ill in Irreversible.

Climax, in theaters today, is a musical psychological horror about a group of dancers who are dosed with LSD. It’s a guaranteed psychedelic trip, like much of Noé’s work. Noé’s films are also notoriously shocking, so prepare yourself for the intense insanity of Climax by reading our primer!

Note: Gaspar Noé creates controversial, disturbing cinema. The films discussed below may contain triggering material. Reader discretion is advised.

The Basics

Bio: Gaspar Noé was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1963. His family emigrated to France in 1976. Noé graduated from the esteemed Louis Lumière College in France and soon became one of the defining voices of the French New Extreme film movement.

Trademarks:

  • Surreal, hallucinogenic imagery
  • Characters using or abusing drugs, particularly psychedelics
  • Heavy strobing lights
  • Strong colored lighting
  • Provocative subject matter and presentation
  • Brutal moments of violence
  • Utilization of varied long shots

Frequent Collaborators: Actor Philippe Nahon

Short Films and Music Videos

Though Noé currently has five feature films beneath his belt, he also has more than twenty short films to his credit. Many of them are not available with English translations or subtitles, and some are hard to find at all. The shorts range in topics and length and allow Noé to experiment with different kinds of filmmaking. He has directed several music videos, including videos for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Placebo. The shorts are all almost incredibly violent, but Carne (1991) is one of the most violent and a standout as his first attempt at something longform.

Carne is important because it tells the story of the unnamed Butcher (Philippe Nahon), who would become the protagonist of Noé’s first feature-length film, Seul contre tous/I Stand Alone.

I Stand Alone (1998)

The Plot: Paris, 1980. The Butcher (Nahon) has had a life full of problems, many of them of his own making. After being released from jail, he wants to start a new life. He and his pregnant lover relocate from Paris to the tiny village of Lille to live with his mother-in-law. Angry and miserable and looking for anyone to blame it on but himself, he abuses his new family and then leaves for Paris again. He tries to reconnect with his mentally-handicapped daughter, and his love for her becomes obsession.

This nihilistic look at a broken man’s life features intense scenes of domestic violence and incest and is not for most viewers. However, it is an interesting look into how the most despicable of people use their narcissism to shift the blame onto others. The Butcher is a fascinating take on white male rage.

Most Incredible Imagery: Unlike Noé’s later work, the ugliness of I Stand Alone also extends to its visuals. This drab, lo-fi film is only visually remarkable in its portrayals of violence and unsimulated sex.

Most Extreme Moment: The ending is legendarily extreme and intense, but a scene in which The Butcher finally snaps and punches his pregnant lover in the stomach is beyond shocking.

Watch it: This one currently isn’t available streaming, but you can get a DVD on Amazon.

Irreversible (2002)

The Plot: Irreversible is a revenge story told in reverse. Over the course of one horrible night, a woman is horribly raped and beaten and her boyfriend and ex-lover seek revenge. The film begins with Pierre (Albert Dupontel) and Marcus (Vincent Cassel) killing a man with a fire extinguisher. Irreversible rewinds to their hunt for the man they kill, then back to the inciting incident – Alex’s (Monica Bellucci) rape in a tunnel. From there it reverses even more, highlighting the joy in Marcus and Alex’s life before that night.

Irreversible is notorious for being difficult to watch. People fainted at Cannes Film Festival and walkouts were reported at several showings. Noé shot the film with only a three-page draft of a script, so the dialogue and much of the action was improvised. To add even more authenticity, Belucci and Cassel star as lovers in the film and were married at the time of filming.

Most Incredible Imagery: The film’s final sequence looks like something out of a Malick film, depicting Alex lying in a meadow and reading a book, surrounded by happy strangers. It stands in stark juxtaposition to the brutality of the previous 90 minutes.

Most Extreme Moment: Irreversible’s nine-minute long, single-cut rape scene is one of the most sadistic things ever committed to film. Bellucci and co-star Jo Prestia shot six different versions of the scene, each in a single, unmoving camera take. The static camera feels like security footage, almost, and the scene is almost too much for even the most die-hard disturbing cinema fans to stomach.

Watch it: Rent it on Google Play or iTunes!

Enter the Void (2009)

The Plot: Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) and Linda (Paz de la Huerta) are orphaned siblings living in a seedy part of Tokyo. Oscar makes ends meet by dealing drugs; Linda engages in sex work. Oscar is shot and dies in a filthy club bathroom and his soul wanders time and Tokyo as his life flashes before his eyes. Taking inspiration from DMT trips and The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Enter the Void shows Oscar’s relationship with Linda through his experiences in life and death.

Enter the Void is surreal and subversive and doesn’t offer easy answers. Oscar isn’t the most reliable guide through the afterlife given his drug use, and the movie has no real chronology to speak of. Comprised of moments and snatches of memory, Enter the Void is more of an experience than a narrative story.

Most Incredible Imagery: Almost every second of Enter the Void’s runtime is gorgeous. From the neon underground of Tokyo’s strip clubs to simulated hallucinogenic trips, the movie is a shotgun blast to the face of color and lights. Much of the movie uses first-person perspective, like a video game or the excellent Maniac (2012) remake. Enter the Void is pure visual spectacle from start to finish.

Most Extreme Moment: While there was a good bit of controversy over a scene with an aborted fetus when the film was released, flashbacks to Oscar and Linda’s parents dying in a car crash when they were children is much more shocking. The crash, which is shown several times, violently kills both parents in the front seat while their blood-spattered children sob in the rear.

Watch it: Rent it on Amazon or YouTube!

Love (2015)

The Plot: Murphy (Karl Glusman) is an American film school student living in Paris. He had a complicated polyamorous relationship with two women, Electra (Aomi Muyock) and Omi (Klara Kristin) that ended poorly when Omi became pregnant with his child. Later, while married to Omi, Electra’s mother calls him on the phone and asks him if he’s seen Electra, as she’s been missing for three days and is given to suicidal tendencies. The rest of the film depicts Murphy’s recollections of his two years with Electra before Omi came along.

Love examines Murphy and Electra’s toxic love and lust for one another. Their relationship was a catastrophe, but they shared moments of true joy. Love is Noé’s examination of the pain of love lost, even if that love was ultimately harmful.

Most Incredible Imagery: Most of the truly beautiful images in Love involve graphic, unsimulated sex. Noé told the actors to just go at it and then filmed around them. The way bodies are lit and shot make them look like unique works of art. It’s the most gorgeous porn ever made.

Most Extreme Moment: If more than twelve minutes of people having real sex on camera isn’t enough for you, there is a close-up of a man ejaculating. Take that, Antichrist!

Watch it: Streaming on Netflix!

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