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Year: 2021
Genre: Drama / New Movie
Country: France, Belgium, Monaco
Time: 2h 20m
Director:Gaspar Noé
Quality: HD
I had the opportunity of seeing Gaspar's newest film at the 74th Cannes Film Festival this year. Being an admirer of his entire filmmography as well as one of my favorite working directors, I was very much excited to see this premiere. I knew close to nothing about it, but the poster and title seemed to offer somerthing both different and promising.

And I think we will all agree this is different. I was expecting a new version of "Enter The Void" this time dealing with old age instead of DMT, but this wasn't the case at all. This film isn't exactly completely new territory for Gaspar, but it's the first time he lazer focuses on making an emotional impact mainly through his actor's performances. In so many of his other works, his directing style is bold and brash, making use of several filmmaking techniques to match the style of his films in accordance with their substance. In "Irréversible", he filmed every scene in one take to add a sense of immersion and show both the ugly and the beauty of the events with little artifice. He also showed the events backwards, to add to the theme of time being the ultimate destructor. In "Enter The Void", he used POV shots and special effects to make the camera go through walls, in "I Stand Alone" he made great use of transitions between shots etc...

All of his previous films have had something to do with violence, drugs, sex, trauma, the human condition, time and death. His cinema now has the reputation for being intensely extreme, filled with shocking content and insane stories offering one-of-a-kind experiences for the viewer. And although this film is definetly a Gaspar Noé film, it truly doesn't fit in neatly with the rest of his filmmography.

Forget all the neon lights and the stroboscoping effects, forget the explicit sex scenes. Forget the hallucinogenic escapades and the nightmarish parties. This film deals with an aging couple comming to terms with their deaths and the impending doom that awaits them. In short, it's a film about old age, dementia and death. The first 20 minutes or so will clearly set the tone for the rest of the film, as they are almost completely silent, long takes of the two characters waking up and starting their day while someone on the radio explains the ways in which people cope with death and the meaning behind how we deal with grief.

There are still traces of Gaspar's filmmaking, most notably in his signature transitions using a black screen for one second between some shots, as well as the decision to have the entire film happen in split screen. According to him, this choice was to showcast the character's different expriences happenning at the same time, since, to quote from "I Stand Alone" : "we are born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Alone with your flesh, alone with your life which is like a tunnel that's impossible to share". Here, the split screen serves as a way of constantly reminding the spectator of this "tunnel".

However, these are the main two stylistic choices and the rest of the film rests entirely on the shoulders of the actors to carry the emotions in every scene, especially with a subject matter this bleak. When it comes to this, every one of them did their job perfectly (especially Françoise Lebrun), allowing for some of the most tragic, personnal and saddest moments in Gaspar's entire career. Never before had we felt this level of intimacy in so many scenes. You could find similar moments in "I Stand Alone" with the father/daughter relationship or the brother and sister love in "Enter The Void". Here, these moments are the core of the film, and when they come, they sure do it their mark.

However, there is one major problem I had with this film, which is something I have said about some of his other films, notably "Enter The Void" : it's just way too damn long. So many scenes and sequences drag out for minutes without any noticeable action or involvement. The characters are seen in their daily life and we are shown the incidents that come with living with somebody's dementia, notably Alzheimer's. As I've mentionned before, the film begins with very long takes of those daily actions, and how Françoise Lebrun's character copes (or rather how she fails to cope) with her disease. This goes on for the entire film, and the only moments breaking from this excrutiatingly slow pacing are the scenes of dialogue between the couple and their son, played by Alex Lutz. These scenes are incredibly well acted, and just like most of Gaspar's films, they were mostly improvised and you can tell. This felt right, since it adds to the sense of naturalism the film was clearly going for.

Unfortunately, I think the film falls short of greatness because of this. This reminded me of two other films : the first one is "Amour" by Michael Haneke for obvious reasons, but Haneke's style seemed more fit to tackle this topic in this manner. The second one is David Lowery's "A Ghost Story", which deals with grief and most notably, explores death and how we cope with it from an existential point of view. In "Vortex", Gaspar also explores these themes, but with a 2h20min runtime, he bores and eventually loses the spectator before the film's final minutes can truly have an impact.

I still enjoyed it for what it tried to be, and for the performences. It's also very refreshing to see a more personnal film from Gaspar, away from his usual reputation and for the first time without an R or NC-17 rating. But I simply cannot put aside how long this film seemed. Just like with "Irréversible", he wrote a 10-page script and ended up with a 2 hour film, which is one of his shortcomings. I will probably watch it again sometime, when I'll really be in the mood for this again, and maybe I'll give it a 7 instead of a 6 after a few more viewings. But for now, this will definitely not be his masterpiece.
Vortex (2021)

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