Film review: Vortex

The Argentine provocateur Gaspar Noé has long used his films “to shock and to disturb”, said Kevin Maher in The Times. So far, he’s done “gross-out violence” (I Stand Alone), explicit sex (Love) and also sexual violence (Irreversible). This film contains not a single “shot of excess”, and yet it might well be the director’s “most disturbing” yet. Françoise Lebrun and the Italian director Dario Argento play an elderly couple – identified simply as Lui and Elle – who are stumbling “painfully” towards the end of their lives in their poky flat in Paris. He is a writer with heart problems, and she is a psychiatrist who may have dementia. Sitting somewhere between Amour and The Father, the film is a “brilliantly executed” meditation on “the fate that awaits us all – decrepitude and death”. 

“It makes sense” that Noé, that inveterate taboo-buster, should have ended up probing a subject that few of us “willingly contemplate”, said Danny Leigh in the Financial Times. “In the end, our exits are solitary”, and Noé underscores this point by “making the whole film in split screen” so that the two characters are separated at all times by a black vertical line. This sounds gimmicky, but it gradually delivers “huge emotional power”. Still, this “mournful” film is “a conundrum: so wrenching it feels hard to ask an audience to give it their time, so honest it demands they do”. 

Powerful as it is, there are some missteps, said Charlotte O’Sullivan in the London Evening Standard, such as a “contrived” plot line revolving around “the siren call of drugs”; and the whole thing “moves at the pace of an especially sleepy snail”. But it does offer “a fresh angle on human frailty”. 


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