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VORTEX (2021, FRANCE) – 6.5/10

I don’t know if the French-Argentinian shock filmmaker and provocateur Gaspar Noe has softened over the years or if “Vortex” is just a short-lived moment of weakness and showing his gentler, more humane side, but this was completely different from everything he had recorded so far. The author who in the last quarter of a century has shocked the audience with almost extreme films such as “Seul contre tous”, “Irreversible” and “Enter the Void”, only to shoot two weaker and actually irrelevant films in the last decade such as “Love” and “Climax”, he filmed a docu-drama that is almost a spiritual successor to Haneke’s “Love”. Of course, stylistically and technically, these two films are completely different, but both deal with old age and dying, which still seem to be a kind of taboo topic in Western society and something that is not really liked to be talked about.

If we’re lucky enough not to get run over by a tram, hit by a stray bullet from Donetsk, or hit by a transistor that Jura Stublić just threw through the window of the fourth floor of a building, we’ll probably all be waiting for something similar to what the main characters of “Vortex” struggle with. The unnamed elderly couple Noah are introduced via birth years that are identical to the birth years of the actors who play them. He is played by the legendary Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, born in 1940, for whom this was his first role, while she is played by the almost forgotten French actress Francoise Lebrun, born in 1944, who had her biggest role half a century ago in “Mother and Whore” by Jean Eustache. The third important character of the film is their son, a 40-year-old recovering addict.

And just like in his previous film, the medium-length “Lux Aeterna”, Noe split the screen in half so that the whole time, that is, almost all two and a half hours, we follow the whole story from the perspective of both characters. As the description of the film on IMDB briefly says, in “Vortex” we follow the last few days of an elderly couple struggling with dementia. More precisely, Ona, an elderly woman who was once a psychiatrist, is struggling with dementia, but now she is in an advanced stage of dementia and it is completely unclear to her who and what she is. He is a film critic and historian who survived a severe stroke a few years ago, and is now trying to write a book about film and dreams. And he is not doing very well because his wife is completely out of control due to her illness.

As soon as he takes his eyes off her for a moment, she wanders off somewhere, gets lost because she doesn’t know who and what she is. So, when the son comes to visit them to extort money from the parents, at one point the mother asks him who is the man who keeps following her, thinking of her husband. And Noe delivers all of this almost in a documentary style, somewhat coldly, distantly, as if he wants to shove something in the viewer’s nose that potentially awaits him in the next decade. “Vortex” was an extremely difficult and tiring film to watch, an uneasy observation about life, death and what all our destinies boil down to and will boil down to. Whether we are geniuses or first-rate idiots, when old age comes, we are all subject to the same diseases and ailments, and if the Reaper does not pick us up in time, we will turn into sad and pale outlines of ourselves.

Although “Vortex” does not disturb the viewer in the same way as was the case with “Alone Against All” or especially “Irreversible”, again Noe made a film that is not at all pleasant to watch and whose main goal is not even close to entertaining the viewer. However, just like almost all of his (better) films, “Vortex” is one of those films that spins in your head for some time after watching and makes you think about what you saw and what Noe faced. This film premiered in Cannes, and Noe came up with the idea for the film based on his own experiences with his mother, who also suffered from dementia. Another decisive factor that led him to record “Vortex” was his own diagnosis, i.e. a brain hemorrhage that nearly killed him in 2020. For these reasons, the film is dedicated to those whose brains will shut down before their hearts betray them.