Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Vortex (2021 film)


Written and directed by Gaspar Noe, Vortex is the story of a couple living out their final days as they deal with various health issues where they begin to drift apart. The film is an experimental psychological drama that explores an elderly couple as they deal with things beyond their control as well as embark on their own individual journeys into the afterlife. Starring Dario Argento, Francoise Lebrun, and Alex Lutz. Vortex is a haunting yet somber film from Gaspar Noe.

The film is the simple story of the final days of an elderly couple as they both cope with health issues as well as their deteriorating conditions along with the fact that they’re drifting apart. It is a film that follows the lives of this couple as they spend their days together with the husband (Dario Argento) is finishing up a book about films and dreams while his wife (Francoise Lebrun) is tending to the home having retired from her work as a psychologist. Yet, a recent event where she was supposed to go to the pharmacy only to get lost at a market raises concerns among other things as it is clear the wife is suffering from dementia while the husband is dealing with heart issues. Adding to the chaos are incidents relating to the wife’s dementia that only makes the husband go into panic mode as their son Stephane (Alex Lutz) would make a few visits with his own son Kiki (Kylian Dheret). Gaspar Noe’s screenplay is largely straightforward in its narrative yet he would do something on a visual level that would make the story far more unconventional.

Noe’s direction opens with the husband and wife having a lunch at their Parisian apartment balcony as they look outside and relax as it then cuts to a performance of Francoise Hardy singing Mon Amie la Rose as it plays into this blissful feel as it is shot on full-frame ratio and it then goes into a 2:40:1 widescreen aspect ratio after 7 minutes where the screen suddenly splits into two. Much of the action that occurs between the couple separately takes place in real time as well as their own individual activities with the husband often talking on the phone to a publisher or lamenting his thoughts on a former lover in Claire (Corrine Bruand). During a moment when he’s on the phone, the wife is crushing pills for some medication for him to take though Stephane suggests that she’s trying to poison him as there’s a lot of ambiguity into what she is doing or does she really know what she’s doing.

Much of Noe’s direction utilizes largely some long shots as well as close-ups and medium shots to maintain a sense of intimacy including a conversation between the husband, wife, and son over an incident involving the oven. It’s a scene that goes on for minutes yet the camera never moves in its two different angles as it is shot on real time where Noe plays into this growing deterioration between the husband and wife. It adds to this minimalist approach that Noe does in order to capture a family coming undone as it is often told through perspective of the husband and wife. In the film’s third act, it also goes into Stephane’s perspective as someone who is struggling raising his own son as well as having his own problems that prevents from being there for his parents. Its third act is expected in what Noe explores in these final days of this couple yet its final images are more startling into a life that was once so vibrant and loving only to deteriorate due to things beyond their control. Overall, Noe crafts a heartbreaking yet intoxicating film about the final days of an elderly couple.

Cinematographer Benoit Debie does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it aims for a naturalistic look for many of its interior settings at night as well as some exterior scenes at night where Debie aims for something straightforward rather than something stylish. Editor Denis Bedlow does amazing work with the editing in its unconventional usage of jump-cuts to help bring some abrupt rhythms to some long shots as well as give the film an offbeat pace in some parts of the film. Production designer Jean Rabasse, with set decorator Nathalie Roubaud and art director Anna Prat, does excellent work with the look of the apartment that the old couple live in that is filled with books, film posters, video tapes, and all sorts of things as it is messy yet is full of life. Costume designer Corrine Burand does terrific work with the costumes as it is largely casual that also include the robes that the elderly couple wears and a few other bits that play into the world they’re in.

Visual effects supervisor Pierre Buffin does nice work with a lot of the film’s minimal visual effects with the scene of the screen splitting into two being a key moment along with a few bits of set-dressing for some of the long shots. Sound editor Ken Yasumoto does superb work with the sound in maintaining a low-key and naturalistic atmosphere in the apartment as well as how music is heard from a stereo or from a location outside of the apartment. Music supervisors Steve Bouyer and Pascal Mayer do wonderful work with the film’s soundtrack that is largely a mix of music ranging from electronic pieces, indie rock cuts, score music from films including a few by Ennio Morricone, and a song from Francoise Hardy as much of the film’s music is presented on location.

The film’s remarkable ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Corrine Bruand as a former lover of the husband whom he meets at a dinner with other writers, Kamel Benchemekh as an attorney that appears late in the film, Nathalie Roubaud as a junkie that Stephane meets, and Kylian Dheret as Stephane’s son Kiki. Alex Lutz is excellent as the son Stephane as a man who is trying to help his parents though he is also someone struggling to maintain his own finances and such as well as doing what he can to help his parents. Finally, there’s the duo of Dario Argento and Francoise Lebrun in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as the unnamed husband and wife. Argento brings this sense of awareness of a man that realizes something isn’t right as well as coping with his own health while Lebrun has this sense of wonderment of a woman who doesn’t know what she is doing as well as having trouble remembering due to her growing dementia. Argento and Lebrun bring in a chemistry that is key to the film as a couple who love each other but are both increasingly ill with the old man dealing with his health and the old woman unsure of who this man is as they are the highlight of the film.

Vortex is a sensational film from Gaspar Noe that features great leading performances from Dario Argento and Francoise Lebrun. Along with its ensemble supporting cast, somber visuals, its minimalist approach to storytelling, and unconventional presentation. It is a film that doesn’t aim for melodrama in favor of something far more eerie in its exploration of a couple’s final days as it also plays into this idea of death looming and there’s no way to avoid it. In the end, Vortex is a phenomenal film from Gaspar Noe.

Gaspar Noe Films: Carne - I Stand Alone - Irreversible - Enter the Void - Love (2015 film) - Climax - (Lux Aeterna) – The Auteurs #48: Gaspar Noe

© thevoid99 2023


ruth said...

I have a big blindspot on Gaspar Noe but it seems a lot of his films aren't for me. This one sounds intriguing though.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-This is actually a very different from Noe in comparison to his other films as he's experimenting more with doing long takes and such as well as aiming for something that is akin to slow-core films but I like it. Enter the Void I think is his best film though I should warn you that it is controversial as is his previous film in Irreversible. Climax is his most accessible film to date though it too is provocative and controversial.