Gaspar Noé is known for making films that sit with audiences for a very long time, and not in the conventional way one would think. His films are downright gruesome, disturbing, and, more often than not, hard to watch, almost always including a twist of something unexpected, something truly terrifying. Yet, Vortex is unlike anything Noé has done, or what his audiences expect from him. Could the film be called disturbing and hard to watch? Absolutely, there is no question about it, the film is deeply seeded in the unfortunate reality that plagues people that no one ever wants to talk about. However, it is not about body dysmorphia, it is not a conventional horror movie, it is not madness, it is just the reality of getting old. Vortex explores what happens when a loved one is plagued by dementia in one of the most intriguing ways captured in a cinematic forum. This movie is certainly by no means for the faint of heart, but its everlasting impact certainly speaks for itself.
The film focuses on Lui (Dario Argento) and Elle (Francoise Lebrun) and, on occasion, their son Stephane (Alex Lutz), as they’re trying to figure out the remainder of their time on Earth, and cope with the fact that Elle is sick. It is not easy for either of them to understand what is going on; some revelations about their lives together get brought to the forefront and some truly shocking moments unfold due to that. They’re each trying to live their lives while coming in and out of lucidness (despite the fact that only Elle is technically diagnosed with dementia, it appears Lui is not entirely collected either).
In what could be described as a cross between Amour and The Father, Vortex manages to differentiate itself and stand on its own legs and create the story that Noé clearly wanted to tell. His choice to direct it and tell the story the way he did is certainly a creative one, something we’ve seen in a fashion before with The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. However, instead of having two different versions of the film titled Him and Her respectfully, and then a combination entitled Them, Noé decided to show the entire movie in a split screen with each screen being dedicated to either Lui or Elle with it rarely featuring them together or it focusing on a different character.
While the aforementioned stylistic choice of telling this story of this married couple in their twilight years is certainly innovative and creative, it causes some issues at the beginning. When first watching the film, it divides your attention. You don’t know where to look, left or right, and which story to focus on, even if one part of the story is a character sleeping while the other is doing something. The subtleties that could be told within the film are so great that the fear of missing a critical moment divides your attention. However, when it flows as the film starts to progress, that distraction is made less apparent and, through the performances, the nuance of their actions, and the dialogue, it is ever clearer where the focus is demanded and thusly creates a more engaging result.
Both Dario Argento and Francoise Lebrun deliver remarkable performances that resonate with the audience and capture their attention to evoke strong palatable responses. They bring two hundred percent to the table and manage to embody their characters, connecting them to the audience’s souls, and transport the audience to a place of no return. The depths of realism and trauma that is clearly shown in their performances are nothing shy of haunting and unshakable. While Vortex may not be a typical film for Gaspar Noé to make, it is certainly of his most haunting films that will leave you with a sense of uneasiness long after the distilled credits roll.
In New York City April 29th, 2022.
Nationwide May 6th, 2022.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.