The latest from French provocateur Gaspar Noé uses split-screen to tell the story of an elderly couple (played by Dario Argento and Françoise Lebrun) in their twilight years
Vortex begins with elderly couple Lui (Dario Argento) and Elle (Françoise Lebrun) rising from their wheezing slumber to empty their bladders and begin shuffling through their morning routine. Bedrooms and bodily fluids are common sights in Gaspar Noé films but usually not quite like this.
Immediately, the screen splits itself in two – half the frame following Lui, half following Elle. It’s a conceit which will be maintained throughout the entire film and at first it seems to give us a playful sense of how perfectly in tune this couple are. They move around the apartment, pouring coffee and getting dressed in easy harmony, flitting in and out of one another’s frames without needing to exchange a single word.
But the true nature of the border between them becomes painfully clear when we discover that Elle has dementia and is rapidly declining. Their son, Stéphane, played with an almost saintly grace and patience by Alex Lutz, does what he can to bridge the divide but it’s clear that this family will never again be together as it once was.
Noé’s style remains as confrontational as ever, battering the viewer with shuddering cuts and then using agonisingly long, static takes for the film’s harshest moments. It’s only in the final minutes that the full, awful power of the bisected screen becomes clear. Vortex isn’t a cruel film; just a long, hard look at the sad and lonely way in which even the richest lives can end. A gruelling but undeniably powerful watch.
Vortex screened at Glasgow Film Festival and is released in the UK on 13 May by Picturehouse