Vortex – Film Review
by Frank L.
Director – Gaspar Noé
Writer – Gaspar Noé
Stars – Dario Argento, Françoise Lebrun, Alex Lutz
This is set in a cluttered, large apartment in Paris where an elderly couple are living out their lives. Neither character is given a name. In the credits they are referred to as Lui (Dario Argento) and Elle (Françoise Lebrun). This simple device gives the story a universality. Their respective faculties are declining at different speeds and in very different ways. Coping with the challenges of everyday life is becoming an issue. They have a son Stephane (Alex Lutz) who is estranged from his wife. He is involved in the film industry obliquely and has dabbled with drugs. He helps out in the evenings at a needle exchange. He is not an ideal son for the challenges which his parents face.
The apartment has the accretions of being the home of Lui and Elle for many years. She is beginning to become increasingly confused and he has medical issues. Even Stephane can see that they cannot cope but Lui is adamant they are not leaving their home and above all, he cannot contemplate leaving his books. It is a very familiar story but it is deeply unsettling to encounter under Noé’s searching gaze as the befuddlement intensifies and the health issues increase.
Nearly the entire film is shown through a double screen. At the beginning, it works charmingly as Lui and Elle acknowledge each other’s presence as they sit down for a glass of vino on a balcony in the early evening but gradually it also underlines the increasing distance between them as the frailties increase. Stephane’s role is not only that of a son and sole carer but it is also a reminder that everyday life of the younger generation continues to throb in all its complexities as the elderly become ever more constrained by their mental and physical failings.
The petty humiliations of old age are exposed by Noé with an acute insight. It is like watching a horror film of the unspoken everyday existence of an elderly couple. The inclusion of well-known horror director Dario Argento, known for works such as Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) is also worthy of note.
The three main actors whose real-life ages are the same as the characters they depict are at all times unsettlingly credible. At times it is disturbing but it is rewarding because it is so gently executed. The film lasts for two hours twenty minutes and moves slowly but with the elderly, you must move at their pace. Noé manages to hold your attention; the film does not drag. The ending is poignant and it is as good a way as any to depict the fleetingness of life. A serious film that is well worth your attention even if the subject is not uplifting.