Director: Gaspar Noé
Talent: Dario Argento, Françoise Lebrun, Alex Lutz
Release Date: May 13
Gaspar Noé’s latest challenge to the constitution of cinema-goers features Françoise Lebrun and Dario Argento as an unnamed elderly couple facing the ravages of old age – dementia and heart deterioration, respectively – defended only by their faltering grasp on the will to live. That this makes for ‘difficult viewing’ should come as no surprise.
Notionally similar subject matter has been broached in Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012) and Florian Zeller’s The Father (2020) – the former with icy poise, the latter with a studied theatricality. Noé’s approach, naturally, is more confrontational: from early in the action, the screen is split, everything filmed with two cameras whose footage is played simultaneously in adjacent panels. The effect is disorientating, frustrating, and – not least when the images almost but never quite join – agonising. This is, of course, the entire point.
Noé has always used ‘devices’ – the inverted narrative of Irreversible (2002), the ‘disembodied camera’ of Enter the Void (2009), garish 3D in Love (2015) – and one of the reasons his work is unmissable, however bludgeoning it may be, is the iron grip with which he can sustain a formal strategy (or a gimmick, if one was to be more circumspect). Vortex delivers on that front, but it’s also worth seeing for a good deal more.
Those who gratefully savoured the crumbs of tenderness and humanity amid the bonfire of 2018’s exhilarating Climax will find much more here, and – despite the seemingly affectless performances from Lebrun and Argento – there is a dramatic heft with which Noé hasn’t always concerned himself. As unsparing as it is to watch, this is a forgiving film, sympathetic not only to the plight of the couple but also to their choices – insofar as those choices are theirs to make – and to those of their troubled adult son (Alex Lutz).
Dedicated to ‘those whose minds will decompose before their hearts’ Vortex is loving in a way that feels epiphanic – both in the face of the void and at this stage in the Noé filmography. Simultaneously his most humane film and his most harrowing, it is an uncompromising confrontation with what awaits us all.
Words: David Turpin