Vortex; Gaspar Noé’s latest cinematic outing, in contrast to his more horrific previous works, is an exploration of the final days of a couple living in a Parisian apartment.
Told in an interesting split screen format, with two small square frames following two characters at a time. They take turns as the priority on screen, making it relatively easy to follow despite the busy visual dynamic.
Lui (Dario Argento) is a self-obsessed man who spends his days planning for the book he is unlikely to have time to write. His wife, Elle (Françoise LeBrun) is suffering from advanced dementia, and displays slipping connections with both her home and the people in it.
There is little plot here, acting more as a character observation than a true “story”. As Lui goes about his day as though nothing is wrong, Elle is left to fend for herself. Occasionally wandering off and getting told off for it. It’s a frustrating watch, and this is echoed in the visits and attempts at support from their son Stéphane (Alex Lutz); A man suffering from his own problems.
For all it’s important content however, and its potentially compelling subject matter, Vortex falls too far into the mundane to be engaging. In comparison to the other recent films about dementia, also from a French director; Florian Zeller’s The Father managed to add enough complexity to what we see on screen to really get into the nuance of what makes these illnesses so difficult to live with. In Vortex the people involved all just seem bored, and watching it, you will be too. Perhaps in Noé’s attempts to keep the visual clarity there across both screens, he has left us with too sparse a story to really engage with. Especially over it’s excessive 2 hour 22 minute runtime.
It is difficult to sympathise with anyone, as Lui spends a lot of time chasing his mistress and his book rather than caring for his wife. On top of this, their son abuses drugs in his home with his own son present and witnessing it. Interventions on behalf of Elle aren’t taking, including preventing her from prescribing her own medication.
There seems to be a tragic lack of care for those involved, for themselves and each other. Though while there may be a lot of truth to it, and if Noé is basing this on his own experiences with his own parents, it’s a damning indictment of the end of their lives.
Vortex tries very hard to be important, unfortunately landing more on the side of appalling than compelling.
VORTEX will be released in cinemas on 13th May