Interview: Gaspar Noé Talks “Climax”

Collective madness. Craziness. Things that you don’t know may happen, and when it does, what do we do to avoid it? How about things which take away our ability to control ourselves? What would we do if we find ourselves with a group of people that we barely know and have no idea if we can trust them?

Gaspar Noe’sClimax” is not just about people who after having LSD mixed with their sangria became high; it’s about individuals who not only started acting strangely due to hallucinations, they begin seeing an enemy in every single one of them, turning a seemingly fun night into a nightmarish one where some of them never make through it.

As I can speak a lot about “Climax”, it’s that strange yet paralyzed experience that you should put yourself through as a viewer. Yes, it may be uncomfortable at times, but remember, good movies are not there to comfort us; its main job is to displace us from our comfort zone to live a life we otherwise would not in real life.

During my phone interview with writer and director Gaspar Noe, I came to know about “Climax” more than it was written anywhere else, the details of which, I have no doubt you also would like to learn about.

MOVIEMOVESME: How did you manage to fit the entire story into five pages of the screenplay?

Gaspar Noé: My first feature was written, the one called “Into the Void” and I made it over a long period. Shooting one day here, one day there. But then when I was proposed to do a movie with Monica Bellucci we started “Irreversible” with just a three-page script and no dialogue. And probably until now that my biggest commercial success, although the movie was very violent.

 I dropped one idea, I wrote three pages. We prepared the movie. Five weeks later we were shooting. We were shooting five weeks and a half. And then it made a real movie. Also what was easy because the whole story was taking place over one single night. And we shot it in chronological order. Even if in post-production, we reversed the scenes. And the whole story is shown backwards in the film.

But last January, in January 2018 I had this idea for a movie that could take place in one single space with dancers. And I said, oh probably I can shoot it very quickly if I get the money. Because once you put the lights on and once you have dancers, you can hold them for fifteen days. Let’s do like an experiment. Let’s create the movie altogether in fifteen days. And that’s what happened. We prepared it in one month with one location and the twenty-three dancers.

And then we shot it in fifteen days. And we edited in two months. And what you can feel when you see the movie, the energy that is present on the set. And yeah, everybody was really happy. There were no fights. No one was drunk, no one was wasted. They were happy to participate.

MMM: After watching “Climax”, I really must ask you the following question – Did you have any empathy towards the characters you created for “Climax”? Or was it all about testing their (character’s) limits?

GN: Actually I like all the characters the same. Then when I was choosing the dancers and actresses who were going to play in the movie, I made sure that it was people I really related to. In the first half of the movie, you like them all. There’s not one that’s a bad character or a despicable character. They are all full of energy. They are creative. And the kind of building the collective project in the most constructive way.

Then what happens is an accident. It’s induced by one of the members. And the whole collective project starts collapsing. And you realize people have multiple faces. Everybody is sweet with his kids or can be sweet with his kids. His parents are the ones he loves and can be all regular people. But in the case of this movie, they all turn paranoid and start becoming destructive. Because they don’t wanna just control, they feel endangered so they become angry and cruel.

 But even in their anger, there’s not one that is more despise able than the others. And when people in the movie become paranoid against those who didn’t drink, it’s not because they didn’t drink or because for the reasons they didn’t drink. It’s just because they think they’re responsible for reducing the collective madness. Again it’s not … Most people who have kids, their favorite character is the young kid. I know each person probably would relate to one person more than the others. But I like working with all of them. I also like all the characters the same.

MMM: The readiness of actors, or whether it was improvisation, was so real. You’ll probably find it a funny question but how about the state of mind of actors? Was there any kind of check done to check their state of mind before and after the filming concluded?

GN: No. I told them the storyline in advance. I told them, “This is how the movie’s gonna start. You’re gonna be dancing toward the beginning, then you’re gonna improvise your dances. Then you’re gonna be chatting, making projects about the party night. And then I’m gonna put the credits in the middle of the movie. And we go, after the credits in the middle of the movie, we go to the rest of the night. Like thirty minutes later or one hour later. And you’re all turning psychotic.” And they were all very clean on the set. They weren’t drinking, they weren’t doing any chemicals. They really enjoyed portraying some kind of craziness. And I showed them a lot of videos coming from rave parties, mental hospitals, people on drugs being arrested. And for them, it was big fun to represent that. The kid who plays in the movies, he just plays three days. Because we’re not allowed to have a young kid for more than three days.

And then he’s put in a closet. And you hear him screaming, but he wasn’t on the set. And when the movie was finished, every single dancer was as happy as the producers or the members of the crew. We just made the movie a catastrophic movie, in the best mood. And I don’t think anybody regrets anything. They’re all so happy that the movie exists. And most of them now want to become directors or actors also. It was a pleasure to the movie and it was a collective pleasure to show it and film it.

There’s also one thing I think in France, the issues are different. And even when I shot the movie, I was not, I didn’t have in mind how many men or women I wanted on screen. I just wanted to have the best dancers. I didn’t care at all about racial issues or sexual issues. I just said, “Oh I want to have the most diverse people on set.” And then when the movie was finished, I got the best people I could get for the movie.

And then yeah, you see something that probably could happen in France. Because the whole perception of the time is less communitarian people. People who were born in France, they all speak French. And that’s why I put that sign that the movie’s French and proud of it. I’m happy the movie was produced here because it would not have been produced anywhere else.

MMM: I’m sure, based on what I saw,  it wouldn’t have been produced in the United States.

GN: No United States, no way. The producers would have re-edited every single scene of my movie.  In America, producers consider the movie as their own product. In France, producers finance, and the directors proud of because of this history of protecting painters, writers, whatever. And people still believe in like, believe in art. I don’t know if art, is cinema is an art, it can be. But mostly it’s not, I feel, that there’s more respect for the final cut of the director in this country.

MMM: What about the books presented during an interview of the audition tapes seen in the film?

GN: Those were the books I was reading at the beginning of the nineties. And initially, that scene was shot in an old video format with a range of 133. And that’s the cinema script screen is 235. I said, “Oh that’s not gonna look good to put a square image inside a large image.” And then I said “Why don’t I just put it inside the TV. Like if someone was watching those casting tapes in an apartment at that time.” And yes that apartment is my apartment actually. All those books and those VHS were the ones that I had in my engagement. The books or videos that inspire me to do such a movie twenty years later.

MMM: Going back to your previous work before “Climax”. All the characters you’ve written can be hardly considered as “normal”. In fact, they are rather extraordinary. But many people might also be scared of them because they’re not as normal as they might have expected.

GN: I don’t know many people who are normal, or who consider themselves normal, that anybody considers themselves normal. It’s kind of scary. You know people have their own lives, they have their own traumas. Everybody has their traumas in childhood. Everybody has traumas in adulthood and some later. But I would say all these people that I filmed, they mostly represent people who struggle to do things right, even when they do them wrong.

MMM: As an editor of “Climax”, how many scenes did you decide to leave behind?

GN: I almost didn’t cut anything. I just cut one dancing scene in this movie. When I started shooting the movie and my producer, “Can you make a nineteen-minute movie in fifteen days?” And then I decided to cut it. But I didn’t cut much. On the other hand, all those master shots that you see those long takes, I shot them up to eighteen times. And mostly it was the last two takes that were good. And all the previous that were just rehearsals for the final take.

MMM: What do you think is the main takeaway viewers should be looking out for?

GN: It’s about … I would say the movies about construction, fragility, and destruction. I’ve seen so many couples, so many love strong couples suddenly breaking about because one day they got too drunk. And the reptilian hidden face came up and they started insulting each other openly. And then the whole love story that was constructed. It’s about the fragility, the chemical fragility of the human brain. I would say Losing Control. It’s like this shiny side of the moon, and there’s the dark side of the moon. When people go out and they party and say “Oh this is controlled.” At the beginning it’s great. And then usually it’s a nightmare. Then after it turns into a nightmare.

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