Sex, drugs, violence, excess. These terms first come to mind when one thinks of the films of Gaspar Noé, originally from Argentina, who lives and works in France. After all, each of his films, from “Irréversible” to “Enter The Void” to the pornographic 3D film “Love” has been at least a minor scandal in its own way. But the only scandalous thing about Noé’s latest work is that there is no provocation – instead it turns out “Vortex“As an adaptation of a sentence from his previous film“ Climax ”, where at one point it is said:“ Death is an extraordinary experience. ”In the two and a half hours of“ Vortex ”, Noé observes two very old people as they have over the last few weeks spend before her death. That sounds simple and maybe even a little banal, but this time, under the supposedly cautious direction Noés, it turns into a remarkable and, above all, remarkably touching cinematic experience.
An old couple lives together in a narrow Parisian apartment, where the convoluted corridors are particularly striking. The man (Italy’s horror grandmaster Dario Argento), who still works as a film journalist, surrounds himself with countless movie posters, has an affair and is writing a book about films and dreams. The woman (Françoise Lebrun) used to be a therapist, but is now increasingly wandering through life. She suffers from Alzheimer’s and keeps forgetting where she is and what she was about to do. They may have fed together, but both of them will die alone …
Drugs are generally seen as a means of euphoric intoxication, as an inhibition-releasing path to ecstasy. But with Gaspar Noé they have always been a path to knowledge and preoccupation with the ultimate riddle of being human: death. In “Enter The Void” in particular, the main character foresees her death due to the intoxication with DMT and other hallucinogens – she repeatedly relives the accidental death of her parents, soon experiences her own birth and thus accepts the cycle of life. In “Climax”, too, the initially enthusiastic LSD trip quickly degenerates into the deepest abysses, which – depending on the reading – lead to the possible massive death of the dancers.
A daring formal experiment
As much as Noé’s films always told of states of intoxication, the preoccupation with death always resonated with them – a topic that has become more and more evident as the director ages. Noé is now married to his director colleague and collaborator Lucile Hadžihalilović, his mother died in his arms a few years ago, and he himself narrowly escaped death two years ago after a cerebral haemorrhage. He becomes calmer and wiser – but no less radical as a result. This is shown in “Vortex” above all by a stylistic decision that is as simple as it is brilliant and consistent in terms of content:
In one of the first shots you see the couple lying on the bed, he on the left, she on the right, filling the entire width of the canvas. Barely noticeable, a line now begins to divide the image and form two windows that will separate the two characters for the remainder of the 135-minute film. On the one hand you watch the man, on the other the woman – so you can decide whether to watch him or her in everyday, often actually banal, activities. Sometimes the two meet in the hallways of their apartment and can be seen for a brief moment in both picture windows. But these moments are over quickly. Occasionally the couple’s son (Alex Lutz) drops in, but the mother’s life in particular is characterized by increasing loneliness.
Radical to the end
The film that “Vortex” is most likely to be reminiscent of is Michael Haneke’s “Amour”, which also shows a couple in a Paris apartment who are confronted with their own mortality. This is astonishing because Noé has so far often been dismissed as the director of films that were emphatically provocative and worked with gimmicks, from ejaculation in 3D in “Love” to telling the rape-and-revenge story backwards in “Irréversible”. Yes, these were extreme films that were often eye-catching to a degree that made it all too easy for critics to dismiss Noé as a superficial director.
Perhaps “Vortex” now causes a rethink, perhaps this melancholy drama about dying is the beginning of the older work of the now 57-year-old director. However, this does not mean that it will be boring or even conventional, on the contrary. In its radical form, “Vortex” seamlessly follows on from Noé’s earlier, more obviously radical films, but only addresses the passage of time and the inevitability of death much more clearly.
Conclusion: At first glance, Gaspar Noé is breaking new ground with “Vortex”, but the strictly composed drama about two old, dying people actually fits seamlessly into the work of one of the most innovative and unusual directors of our time.
We saw “Vortex” at the Cannes Film Festival, where it also celebrated its world premiere.