‘Vortex’ Review

Gaspar Noé’s heartbreaking look at aging is a painfully accurate film from his unique catalog.

CREDIT: Utopia

9.5/10

It is an understatement to say that I have been eagerly awaiting the release of the newest film from Gaspar Noé. If you have been keeping up with the site you can tell I wrote a whole retrospective series on the filmography of Gaspar Noé. It has all led up to this film and the upcoming US release of Lux Æterna. It is hard to discuss why I am so excited to watch a film about dementia. I promise you all, I am not a complete cynic to find enjoyment in watching incredibly depressing films. My maternal grandmother suffered from Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and since I was young I watched the decline of her brain to this terrible disease. I fear this disease so much because I have singlehandedly watched how it strips you of every inch of your agency. Therefore, it is easy to say that this film would hit close to home.

Vortex made its premiere out of competition at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Gaspar Noé conceived this project after almost dying from a dangerous brain hemorrhage. The film is written and directed by French Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé. The film stars Dario Argento, Françoise Lebrun, and Alex Lutz as they portray an elderly couple who are facing the roughness of aging as their son maneuvers his problems too. The film is described by audiences, as the “tamest” of Gaspar Noé’s work while presenting the film in split-screen visual language.

In the story of Vortex, we follow an elderly couple who are only referred to by the names of him and her played respectively by Argento and Lebrun. Alex Lutz plays their son Stephane who is trying to find a solution to deal with his mother’s rapidly advancing dementia. Things are not easy for his father because he has heart-related health problems after suffering a stroke years ago. The mother is a psychiatrist and the father is a writer who is writing a book about films and dreams. Vortex’s story is one of aging, loneliness, and the fear of losing control.

Gaspar Noé reaches new heights in his new masterful work of art. The film works to break barriers within his expansive filmography, but it also excels in presenting one of the most intimate portrayals of dementia on film. Françoise Lebrun’s performance is masterfully heartbreaking as she pulls on every heartstring to convey the psyche of someone with this terrible disease. There is not a single moment where every stare does not effectively portray the loss of agency in Lebrun’s character. Dario Argento and Alex Lutz are not left behind in the shadows of Lebrun as they provide fantastic performances. Everyone in the film is working well together to turn in exemplary performances. The film’s visual language is stylistically exquisite with its use of split-screen as it effectively displays the disconnection from reality as our protagonists exist in the same space. Gaspar Noé undoubtedly crafts not just one of the greatest films in his catalog but of this year. 

The magic of Vortex is that it is not just a grim look at aging. The film is precise with tenderness and patience as it slowly uses its runtime to unravel its narrative. Its tracking shots linger longer than they need to as you consume the atmosphere in which the couple lives. Vortex manages to challenge conventional storytelling while delivering a film that speaks beyond its surface. A once-in-a-lifetime stylized work of art that could only be made by Noé. Everyone should be along for the ride of where Gaspar Noé will go after Vortex as he cements himself as the most versatile filmmaker working today.

Watch Vortex in theaters nationwide as it is being distributed by Utopia Movies.

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