– CANNES 2021: This minimalist and quiet film about death and mourning, with just three characters, is a pleasant surprise directed by Gaspar Noé, neither more nor less
Dario Argento and Françoise Lebrun in Vortex
Applause for Gaspar Noé, please. As film history progresses, year after year, even the best working directors seem to be affected by a particular type of anxiety related to their influences. Noah has his own (sometimes he highlights them clearly through on-screen text) but every time he expresses himself, there is a drive to reinvent what film can do on a formal level, and how the elasticity of the medium can improve our understanding of many issues. . He has been through sex, crime, dance and, with Vortex [+lee también:
ficha de la película], death. More specifically, the lonely and painful deaths suffered by older people in the “developed world”. In this case, as with Love [+lee también:
entrevista: Michael Haneke
ficha de la película] from Michael Haneke, the filmmaker examines how love overcomes and faces the great end point of life. The film has had its premiere in the Cannes Première section (counterintuitively, but very appropriately, at a screening that began at the stroke of midnight).
While Haneke had two celebrated French actors (Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant) to perform his gripping play, Noah’s cast choices add a greater sense of naturalism and everyday life. The suffering couple, whose real names are not specified in the film, are Dario Argento, the master of yellow (little known for his on-screen performances), and Francoise Lebrun, famous for having started as a non-professional actress in The mom and the whore, directed by her lover Jean Eustache. In an intelligent and original way, Noé does not try to evoke the filmic relationships of his actors, except for the fact that the character of Argento did work as a professional film critic before becoming a successful author.
Cinema is a brilliant dissociation tool: with maturity and an astonishing sense of taste, Noé uses the simple formal device of a split screen to represent this struggle at the end of life. Using a frame ratio of 2.35: 1, each actor occupies his own point of view on the screen, with a black space in the middle (like a kind of celestial surveillance camera). At first, the character of Argento is more self-sufficient, able to move on with one of his works: an ambitious book on the relationship between cinema and the unconscious. Lebrun’s character, a former psychiatrist and analyst, must face the dramatic irony that his mind completely succumbs to dementia. Simulating the symptoms of a neurodegenerative disease requires a convincing and risky performance, but the actress offers a solvent job.
The couple have a son, Stéphane (played by Alex Lutz, famous for his comedy roles), who begs them to move into a residence, and it is evident that he does so with the best of intentions (this is not a tactic to lock them up and get rid of their responsibilities). It would be unfair to reveal more about the plot, but we can observe that Noah has constructed a very particular dramatic dialectic: what will survive from this relationship, the mind or the heart, the catastrophe or the practicality?
In this case, the violence is always internal, the anguish always internal, but the grace is permanent. We could make literary comparisons, mainly with Beckett’s obsession with recording devices and repetition, but the last words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet resonate the most: “The rest is silence.” The first words of Argento and Lebrun in the film, sitting on the terrace of a bohemian Parisian penthouse, seem like the eloquent words of a great playwright, and are even reminiscent of the third season of Twin Peaks:
“Life is a dream, right?”
“Yes, a dream within a dream.”
Vortex is a co-production between France, Belgium and Monaco, produced by Rectangle Productions, Wild Bunch Production, Les Cinémas de la Zone, KNM, Artémis Productions, SRAB Films, Les Films Velvet and Kallouche Cinéma. Wild Bunch International handles international sales.
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Review: Vortex – Cineuropa