- Gareth Crook
Vortex (2021) - 9/10
Gaspar Noé doesn’t do light hearted. I’m preparing to strap in and have my senses bludgeoned. I mean we start with a slate that states ‘To all those whose brains will decompose before their hearts’. This isn’t an assault though. It’s stark. Shot on something digital, but framed in 4:3. Elle (Françoise Lebrun) and Lui (Dario Argento) are an old couple, who drift apart, literally into their own split screen frames. It’s inventive, making the screen feel as claustrophobic as their Parisian apartment. They’re often doing different things as they go about the days, meaning the viewer has a lot to take in. I suspect you could watch this a few times and see something slightly different each time. Lui is fearful of the city and fearful that Elle’s onset dementia is going to get her into trouble. Really though, he just wants to get on with writing his book. For all the mundanity, there’s a lot going on. Elle’s face alone conveys a magnitude of emotion with barely a word spoken. She’s aimless and restless. Lui doesn’t see this. He has focus and people to engage with. A visit from their son Stéphane (Alex Lutz) though reveals how lost Elle is. It’s heartbreaking. For Stéphane, for Elle and for Lui who’s ill prepared and frustrated. Elle struggles with the clutter and feels the need to clean and tidy. Organise her home, to help her mind. Lui though embraces it, feels he needs it to fuel his thoughts as they continue to drift apart. Choices are to be made, of how they see their lives and what it looks like going forward, before life makes their choices for them. The fly on the wall feel puts you right at the heart of all this intimacy unravelling and it’s quite hard to watch. Like we’re intruding. It’s wonderful though. I’ve struggled with some Noé films in the past, but this is brilliant. Devastating, but brilliant. I’d go so far to say it’s his best film yet. It does that thing of drawing you in, investing in its characters as a piece of film, but also feeling important. Art capturing life to a degree that you hope it reaches as wide an audience as possible. Many of Noé’s films have been pretty brutal, but this really does hit hard.