“Vortex” from the eccentric Gaspar Noe is a hypnotic and haunting study of an aged couple. Gripping yet anxiety-inducing and difficult to watch, Noe proves yet again that he is a master of the existential.
Italian director Dario Argento is a writer husband who lives with his wife (Françoise Lebrun). She has dementia. The husband works on his book of film theory that links film with the act of dreaming, while the wife writes fake drug prescriptions for herself. She often wanders about aimlessly. While the subject matter has been handled in several films, Noe excels in highlighting anxiety. By using a split screen (as in the cinema of Brian DePalma) the director underscores both the eerie quality of the circumstance and its isolation.
Moreover, the eye scrambles to absorb all of the visual information so the experience of watching the film on the screen is akin to a Rorschach test. There are essentially two stories unfolding at once. It is up to the viewer which segment should be focused and meditated upon. At such times, the film is a trance inducing experience.
The cluttered apartment, filled to the ceiling with books, paper, and medicine resembles a submarine deeply submerged.
Horrifying it is to see the wife turn on the gas in the hope of ending herself and her husband in a snap decision.
The drug-addicted son (Alex Lutz) is well meaning but only offers cold comfort.
At times, the film skirts the realm of dark humor: the wife clearly cares for her husband yet he is consumed with love for his mistress, just as she terminates contact.
No one gets off easy.
There are many quotations throughout. The all-encompassing television will remind some of “Soylent Green,” while the slow dispassionate cinematography recalls the work of Michael Haneke, specifically “Amour.” While a white sheet covering both husband and wife reminds one of the Rene Magritte work The Kiss.
“Vortex” feels the most pedestrian in subject matter of all Noe’s work to date. There is no sex, but there are hints of lust. Although there is nothing of the overtly sinister here there is still plenty to be afraid of. The Lord’s Prayer in particular, is chilling.
As in the work of Michael Haneke, daylight is something to fear simply because the Reaper (or a nurse) may or may not show up at your door.
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