Empire (UK) - - PREVIEW - He­len O’hara

★★★★ OUT 21 septem­ber CERT 18 / 96 mins

DI­REC­TOR Gas­par Noé

Cast Sofia Boutella, Ro­main Guiller­mic, Kiddy Smile, Claude Ga­jan Maull

PLOT Af­ter a suc­cess­ful re­hearsal, a re­cently es­tab­lished dance troupe cel­e­brate their up­com­ing tour of France and the US. But some­one has spiked the punch with a pow­er­ful hal­lu­cino­gen, and the night turns into a vi­o­lently bad trip. “God is with us!” crows sofia Boutella’s selva, arm in the air like Lib­erty Lead­ing the Peo­ple, early in the new Gas­par Noé film. if she’s right — and sub­se­quent events sug­gest oth­er­wise — the rel­e­vant de­ity is a venge­ful, mis­chievous type who tor­ments a dance troupe for its own amuse­ment. From the fuzzy, Vhsstyle open­ing and the over­heard shot of a blood­ied woman strug­gling through deep snow (the only out­door shot in the film), it’s clear Noé’s lat­est is an­other gore­soaked trip through our dark­est im­pulses.

the film lit­er­ally lines up its in­flu­ences on the book­shelves that sur­round a fuzzy tele­vi­sion set just af­ter the film be­gins. there are Vhs copies of Sus­piria, Un Chien An­dalou, Salò and Harakiri, and books by Ni­et­zsche and on Taxi Driver, Mur­nau and Fritz Lang. Brace your­selves, in other words. on the tv we see clips of hope­ful young dancers in­tro­duc­ing them­selves to the un­seen heads of a dance com­pany plan­ning a new tour. they de­scribe their love of the art (to­tal), their at­ti­tudes to drugs (flex­i­ble), and one par­tic­u­larly beau­ti­ful young man is propo­si­tioned by the un­seen boss (“what would you be will­ing to do...?”).

Cut to the dance stu­dio, where the troupe runs through their planned per­for­mance. the dance style is ath­letic and street-based, im­pres­sive but hint­ing at darker themes. Many of the dancers are ap­par­ently dou­ble-jointed, spe­cial­is­ing in body-dis­tort­ing feats, and there are moves that smack of sex­ual ag­gres­sion. the twisted, en­tan­gled forms re­call, not for the last time in this film, hi­erony­mus Bosch’s hellscapes. so when some­one spikes the punch and mi­nor grudges turn into ma­jor clashes, it comes as no sur­prise.

what fol­lows is dark, twisted mad­ness. in long, dizzy­ing takes, some­times tip­ping the cam­era en­tirely up­side down or fol­low­ing a char­ac­ter into writhing, scream­ing mad­ness, Noé rev­els in the fall­out. what hap­pens when all the in­hi­bi­tions are shed? All these lithe, young bod­ies crash to­gether in vi­o­lence and (re­mark­ably un­sexy) sex, and the close har­mony in which they danced falls apart.

it’s barely a plot, and for all its ob­vi­ous im­agery (a glit­tery French flag be­hind the dj, all those book­cases filled with al­lu­sion), Noé doesn’t make any­thing so ob­vi­ous as a clear po­lit­i­cal point. there may be a de­lib­er­ate con­trast be­tween the breath­tak­ingly sex­ist and sex­u­ally ag­gres­sive ban­ter be­tween the men at the party and the fact that it’s the women who cause most of the havoc here. Per­haps it’s a specif­i­cally French com­men­tary, given the re­peated im­pre­ca­tions to show­case the best of French dance and the claim that they are “French, and proud to be so”. But as the dancers tear them­selves apart, scream­ing into the void and throw­ing them­selves bod­ily into mad­ness, maybe it’s sim­ply say­ing that the ties that bind civil­i­sa­tion to­gether are more frag­ile than we think, and that chaos al­ways hov­ers just be­low the sur­face.

VER­DICT This is of­ten up­set­ting (though never to the lev­els of Ir­réversible) but as en­er­getic and hand­some as its cast. at times you’ll be watch­ing in hor­ror, but you’ll never look away.

The KFC 10-Piece Bar­gain Bucket might have been a mis­take.

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