The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - VORTEX | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review [Cinema] - VORTEX

vortex review
An elderly couple struggle with the onset of dementia.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Dario Argento, Françoise Lebrun, Alex Lutz

vortex poster

There's a beautifully performed moment in Joachim Trier's recent critical fave The Worst Person in the World in which a dying man looks back on his life and confesses that as he was never much of a people person, it's the things that brought him joy (books, records, movies), rather than the humans he loved, that he'll miss most of all when he leaves this world. Gaspar Noé's Vortex plays out almost exclusively in a Parisian apartment filled with such "things," its cramped corridors lined with books, records, DVDs and videos, with any visible wall space housing movie posters. Of course, such artefacts aren't merely material possessions, but the sum of a person's life of accumulating knowledge and entertainment.

vortex review

The people in question here are an octogenarian couple referred to only as Father (Dario Argento…yes, Dario Argento!!!) and Mother (Françoise Lebrun). He's a film critic working on a book exploring the relationship between cinema and dreams (of course he is) while she's a retired psychiatrist who still likes to keep abreast of developments in her field. Their apartment is what boring people would call a mess, the sort of place that would give practitioners of Feng Shui a heart attack, but those of us with a soul will recognise it as what we call a home.


Noé opens his film with the couple sharing an idyllic moment as they enjoy some wine and bread on their balcony on a sunny afternoon. "Life is a dream," Mother toasts. "A dream within a dream," Father replies. That dream is horrifically shattered the following morning when Mother wakes up stricken by a sudden bout of dementia. In a strikingly effective visual metaphor, Noé splits the screen with a black bar that drips like tar down the centre of the screen, and when it reaches the bottom the movie maintains its split-screen image for the remainder of its running time. Father and Mother will continue to share a physical space but they will never be united in the same way and the image of a blank half of the screen later on is devastating in its emptiness.

vortex review

Vortex is a surprising about turn from Noé, a filmmaker known, arguably justifiably, as a shock merchant. Here he's crafted a movie built largely of tender human moments. When Mother's madness strikes however, like a horrific scene in which she ruins her husband's work, it's as disturbing as anything Noé has presented us with over the course of his controversial career. Noé opens his film with the dedication "To all those whose brains will decompose before their hearts," which gets to the crux of Vortex. This is a movie about the brutal truth of aging, of everything you built your life around suddenly becoming meaningless. As Mother descends into dementia, what was an enviable Parisian apartment becomes nothing more than a potential fire trap. When their son (Alex Lutz) tries to convince the pair to move into an assisted living facility, Father shoots down the idea because he won't be able to bring his books with him. We can tell that the son is thinking the same thing as the audience, that soon those books will be mere collections of paper when Father's own mind fails, but he can't bring himself to say this to a man who has built his life around acquiring knowledge.


Father and Mother are clearly in love, but they're not without their troubles either. The former reacts to his wife's deterioration by attempting to reconnect with a mistress, but it's never framed as a treacherous act, rather a plea for help from a desperate man. "I need to hear your voice," he tells his old lover's answering machine, and the suggestion is that he can't live without having someone to tell him he matters. This extends to his work too, as he makes several phone calls to editors to let them know of ideas he's come up with (many of them hackneyed, like opening his book with the same Poe quote that opens John Carpenter's The Fog). We don’t hear the other end of the line but we get the impression of some editor nodding their head out of indulgence. As much as he needs love, Father needs respect, and the horror comes from both slowly fading away.

vortex review

Noé takes a very matter of fact, secular approach to the process of dying, one which some viewers may feel is cold and cruel. I suspect Vortex will play differently to viewers depending on whether their parents are still with them or have departed this world. I imagine if my Father and Mother were still here the movie would have greatly disturbed me, but as they're both gone I found Vortex oddly comforting. I found myself relating to the couple's son as he struggles to do what's best for his parents, who stubbornly refuse to heed his advice, and Noé's film made me feel like I wasn't alone, that billions of people are experiencing, or will experience, or already have gone through the same process. No matter how spiritually inclined you might be, there's no romance in death, at least not in western culture. There's no time to say goodbye as you're immediately confronted with paperwork and planning at a time when you need to just sit down and process things. Watching someone else go through this same cold procedure is surprisingly therapeutic. Noé's critics often describe him as immature, but Vortex is a film of great maturity, a shock merchant exploring a subject that comes as a shock to us all. We can't prepare for the death of a loved one but thanks to films like Vortex, we can reflect on it.

Vortex
 is in UK/ROI cinemas from May 13th.



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