The films of provocateur Gaspar Noé have primed us to expect a few things from each new one: sudden jags of violence, some deviant sex stuff, pounding electronic music, crazed experiments with color and camera movement. With his latest feature Vortex, he does the last thing that could still shock people and does away with all of it, going for a more sedate register than his career has ever seen before.
The first trailer for Vortex, uploaded just this morning, offers an impression of the quieter, stiller, altogether more dialed-back tone that Noé has unexpectedly adopted. Though it’s not as if he’s gone soft or anything – the subject of what critics have called his tenderest film is death, the terrifying void waiting for us all at the end of life.
The Italian filmmaking master Dario Argento and Françoise Lebrun (of The Mother and the Whore fame, among many, many others) portray a couple well into their twilight years, their declining mental and physical health portending that they’re not long for this world. As they reckon with the terrifying reality of their own mortality, their inability to care for themselves puts the onus of responsibility on their son (Alex Lutz), who starts to chafe under his new position as custodian to his helpless parents.
The setup may sound familiar to those of you who have seen Michael Haneke‘s Amour, which also considered the horror of nothingness lying in the great beyond and tasked a put-upon adult child with sorting through the emotional wreckage. In this case, however, Noé distinguishes himself with an odd formal technique on display in the clip below, in which the screen is split in half with two panels — in some shots, they divide up a single frame, and in others, they contrast two different images.
Reviews from early showings on the festival circuit have been roundly positive, with many praising Noé’s gear-shift as a step toward maturity. But for those loyalists who specifically appreciated the director for his insouciance bordering on the adolescent, the lack of outré wildness may be a sore sport. Would it be so much to ask to see the 81-year-old Argento taking ecstasy at a rave turned homicidal?
Vortex comes to cinemas in the US on 29 April, and then the UK on 20 May.