Time: 136 Minutes
Dario Argento as Lui
Françoise Lebrun as Elle
Alex Lutz as Stéphane
Director: Gaspar Noé
A retired psychiatrist with dementia and a struggling author with a heart condition live their final days together in an apartment.
Gaspar Noe is one of the more notable infamous and provocative directors, known for Irreversible, Enter the Void and more recently Climax. His latest film Vortex did interest me, partly because I had heard that it is relatively subdued compared to his past work. I watched the movie for myself, and I can confirm that this is true. Make no mistake though, this is very much a Gaspar Noe film, and one for that matter, one of his best.
As said, Vortex is subdued for a Gaspar Noe movie. It does away from the extreme violence and in your face visuals that his films are known for, and this is his tamest movie to date. That being said, it might be one of his more disturbing, gruelling and bleak films, with it focussing on an elderly couple with dementia. Throughout the movie, there is a real existential dread as we follow the two elderly protagonists. While I was initially intrigued with the way Gaspar Noe decided to tell the story (which I’ll get to later), it was hard for me to get into at first. It is very drawn out, particularly near the beginning. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, I think its a bit too long and could’ve been a little shorter. However, it picked up for me from the point where the couple’s son first appears. Like with Noe’s other films, Vortex contains familiar themes of life and death, and with particular emphasis on morality. It is a grim watch but it’s still a very thoughtful and human movie, and an emotionally devastating portrait of dementia. While there’s a few of his movies I haven’t seen yet, it’s safe to say that this is Noe’s most contemplative, mature and personal film yet (even more so after hearing that beforehand he nearly died from a brain haemorrhage).
The cast is very limited, it mostly comes down to Dario Argento (yes, the director of movies like Suspiria and Deep Red) and Francoise Lebrun, playing the older husband and wife respectively. Their nuanced and real performances added so much; helping to bring across their characters in a believable and heartbreaking way. Alex Lutz is equally great in his scenes as their son.
Gaspar Noe’s direction and style isn’t nearly as explosive or in your face as his other films, not to say that its standard by any means. With Noe’s movies, he usually has some notable stylistic or narrative technique throughout. Irreversible had its scenes played in reverse, and Enter the Void was first person. Vortex is no exception, almost all the movie’s shots are split across two separate screens. Its usually showing two different perspectives on these split screens, the husband in one screen and the wife in the other. This choice is to keep these two characters separate, conveying that although they live in the same house, they practically live in separate worlds. The shots have longer takes and brief cuts, that combined with the relatively minimalist approach helps you feel grounded and in the moment. It’s definitely a bold stylistic choice, and it definitely does convey what Noe was going for, but it can be a little distracting. The long takes are impressive but do admittedly get tiring after a while.
Vortex is a bit overlong, but overall is an impactful and painful yet humanistic and contemplative film about mortality. It’s uniquely directed and benefits from the amazing performances from Dario Argento, Francoise Lebrun and Alex Lutz. One of Gaspar Noe’s most restrained films, and one of his best. If you haven’t watched any of his movies, I can say with confidence that it is his most tame content wise, but isn’t an easy watch at all. Great film, but not one I would want to watch again.