VORTEX (France 2021) ***
Directed by Gasper Noé
Filmmaker Gasper Noe has never failed to astound audiences - though not always in a good way. Take his SEUL CONTRE TOUS. In the film’s last 10 minutes, a warning appears on screen with the image of a clock ticking that if one thinks one cannot stomach what is to come, then leave the cinema within one minute. When I first viewed this film at TIFF, most of the audience did not leave. But when the last 10 minutes of film unfolded which involved a father raping his retarded daughter, a quarter of the audience walked out. His last film CLIMAX which displayed the best of dancing also created quite the stir with the dancers all high on the LSD laced punch. The best Noé film remains his first short hour feature CARNE with Jean Much Godard-like titles and the film displaying humour and oddity.
VORTEX follows the lives of an elderly couple - the wife (Françoise Lebrun) suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s and growing worse exponentially while the husband (played by Italian gallo master Dario Argento who made SUSPIRA, OPERA, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) suffers from heart attacks. The son (Alex Lutz) has a noisy little boy and is hooked on crack, smoking up quite often in the house. One thing is for sure - despite the family dysfunctionality , the three have a strong loving relationship for each other. The elderly husband cares for his wife, the son for his father and so on. But their circumstances do not help. VORTEX, shown in split screen, so that director Noé can show two camera angles of one scene, is not an easy film to watch. VORTEX achieves what it is purposed to do, show the extremely difficult daily routines of the three, but one can hardly say the film is entertaining. It os a brutal 2 hour and 20 minute watch, beautifully acted and staged while fluid camerawork, nonetheless.
Director Gaspar Noé created the project after suffering a dangerously severe brain hemorrhage which very nearly killed him. When he recovered, he became sober and began filming. As expected, VORTEX is devoid of humour but filled with human drama. But there are bouts of tenderness as well.
Director Noé has his fan base, and I am one of them after being mesmerized by CARNE, which was followed by art-house hits like ENTER THE VOID, CLIMAX and IRREVERSIBLE. He has a new film premiering at Cannes this year. LUX ÆTERNA is the title of his new film about his own psychic freakout on witches starring Beatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg, two famous French stars, a film that should be on everyone’s watch list.
VORTEX arrives and is currently playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. It arrives without much publicity as the publicist does not wish to send streaming links, insisting that the film best (and rightly so) on the big screen to experience the split screen process. As said, VORTEX is not an easy watch but a film that delivers more of an experience than anything else.