Vortex: Facing Life’s Only True Certainty

Opening at Showroom Cinema this Friday is Gaspar Noé’s Vortex, a gritty and unrelenting take on aging.

Those accustomed to the boundary-defying cinema of provocateur of French cinema Gaspar Noé may find his latest piece to be the biggest shocker of them all.

Following a brush with death in 2020 after suffering a brain haemorrhage, Noé emerged from hospital feeling as though he had a second chance at life. What arose from this trauma was Noé’s most personal, humane and accessible film yet, a largely improvised piece detailing the complementary experiences of two declining adults in their twilight years.

Vortex leads us through a handful of dark days in the lives of an unnamed elderly couple in Paris: a retired psychiatrist with dementia (Françoise Lebrun) and a struggling writer with a heart condition (played by famed horror director Dario Argento in his first lead acting role) working on a book about the intersection of cinema and dreams. As Jed Leland says of old age in Citizen Kane: “It’s the only disease that you don’t look forward to being cured of”. In Vortex, Noé uses the story of a couple facing life’s only true certainty to uncover tender new depths, without forgoing the uncompromising fatalism that has come to define his work.

The film uses a split-screen effect and two cameras to follow the couple around their cramped apartment, piled high with a lifetime of books and mementos. A bold aesthetic choice, the dual narrative both unites and isolates them, depicting a kind of dual consciousness; one side is on Her channel, the other is on His. Cinematographer Benoît Debie’s camera quietly trails the Mother and Father around their immaculately staged living space, almost as though the audience has been tasked with minding the elderly couple, making it all the more heart wrenching when we can only look on in despair. Though the film begins with its ending, unlike Noé’s 2002 film ‘Irreversible’ the narrative does not unspool backwards. This is a film about endings, dedicated ‘To all those whose brains will decompose before their hearts’.

Vortex features astonishing performances by Françoise Lebrun, Dario Argento and Alex Lutz as their troubled grown son. His struggles add an element of suspense and dread to the story – although we know how things will turn out for the central couple, Noé keeps us hanging in concern and empathy.

A visceral and voyeuristic descent into infirmity, Vortex is arguably Gaspar Noé’s most disturbing feature yet, crafting a chilling portrait of the end times that is ultimately as scary as any traditional horror tale.

Vortex opens at Showroom Cinema on Friday 13th May. Tickets are now on sale.

This article first featured in the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 12 May 2022.


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