Very few filmmakers instantly pique your interest quite like Gaspar Noé and his latest, Vortex, is remarkable, often hard to watch, yet sweet in parts.
The Argentine-born director and writer unleashes Vortex on these shores at the Glasgow Film Festival for its UK premiere. You may be unfamiliar with the name but will have no doubt have heard quiet murmurs about his work, more specifically 2002’s Irreversible starring Vincent Cassel.
Front and centre is the one fate we all share, death. We follow the lives of elderly couple of Lui (Dario Argento) and Elle (Françoise Lebrun) where initially all seems well as they follow a standard, well-synchronised, morning routine. It quickly becomes obvious this is not the case as we witness the ravages of dementia as it takes its hold over Elle and we see the struggle play out in split screen.
It is a topic that is no stranger to the big screen as the 2020 Oscar-winning The Father proves. And whilst that is as jarring what Noé has managed to do is create a movie that is borderline documentary in its realism.
This is a bold, bleak and brutal insight into the disease that feels raw.
You know from the beginning that you are set for an altogether different experience. The film opens and continues in split screen showing events play out from the different perspective of Lui and Elle. It is utterly immersive and puts you right there with the characters in a very surreal way.
This choice from Noé and his cinematographer, Benoît Debie, is a triumph. And a decision that is not just about style. One moment you see Lui working while Elle ventures out without his knowledge and with it you feel the palpable tension as he goes searching for her.
Taking on both directing and writing duties, Noé’s storytelling flows with various ideas woven throughout giving it dimensions. Tonally it perfectly positions you between a place of sadness and heartbreak.
It is unapologetic and unforgiving as it fully commits to giving a small insight into the harsh reality many face.
There is the introduction of son, Stéphane (Alex Lutz), to add to the family dynamic and the emotions at play. But also the tests of love from Liu’s perspective who cares deeply for his wife but is conflicted by the change in their relationship.
Dario Argento’s Liu is cold and harsh in moments as he struggles to cope with the reality of his situation. It is a character that you feel at odds with as you sympathise but can also easily dislike in parts.
It is simply a wonderful performance from Argento who encapsulates the struggles of his character perfectly.
On the other side of the split screen is a stark contrast in perspective and where Françoise Lebrun gives a truly powerful performance. Subtle and nuanced display where we see her character go through a battle against her own failing mind. Lebrun shoulders the majority of the emotional depth but does so in an astounding way that makes it look effortless.
What makes it even more layered are the mix of moments where she is fully aware of her former profession as a physiatrist or when she is lucid and aware of her declining health. The turmoil of confusion and everything that comes with it makes it all a very tough watch.
Amongst the vast darkness of Vortex there are small glimmers of light of sweet, touching, moments between Lui and Elle. And Noé gives us these lighter moments but does so in a way that doesn’t compromise what he’s carefully created.
VORTEX will be released in cinemas on 13th May.