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That's Amore

Utopia Distribution

Vortex (2021)

Gaspar Noé has gotten moodier with age, but “Climax” felt like a soulless artistic exercise. The death of his mother, Nora Murphy, and his own battle with a brain hemorrhage apparently have had a profound effect on his follow-up, “Vortex,” at least thematically. To be quite frank, the screenplay of the new film may be just as threadbare as the last, but at least Mr. Noé here deploys split-screen that sustains the viewers’ attention more successfully than one single continuous shot.

“Vortex” often resembles a less impactful and less devastating version of “Amour” and “The Father.” Françoise Lebrun and Dario Argento play an old couple sharing a Parisian flat. She used to be a psychiatrist; he’s a critic still actively working on a book about movies and dreams. (Messrs. Argento and Noé might hate critics, given that this character has carried on an extramarital affair for more than two decades.) The film begins tenderly, with them glancing at each other from different windows across the courtyard before meeting for a date on the balcony.

After a quick musical interlude (“Mon amie la rose” de Françoise Hardy), she wakes up, uses the bathroom, makes coffee, gets dressed, takes the trash out and heads to the stores. Meanwhile, he gets up, uses the toilet, drinks coffee and sits down at the bureau. After she wanders through a couple of shops, he gets dressed and goes out to fetch her. She suffers dementia from here on out, with few moments of lucidity. Rather than impending violence or overdose, here the overall sense of dread is cast by her leaving a gas stove on unattended and ripping up his manuscripts unprompted and flushing the pieces down the loo.

Stylistically, this is very much Gaspar Noé. You have many shots of the backs of people’s noggins. But instead of navigating long maze-like corridors in seedy clubs with blinding red lights and throbbing music, the couple is traversing through hallways in a cluttered apartment with news radio in the background. They will “Enter the Void” in their unique ways, as you’ll see.

Now, about that split screen. It’s a device that makes a lot of sense here, as it effectively illustrates the separate lives led by two people living under the same roof. It’s also fascinating to watch from a technical perspective, because some scenes were obviously filmed with two cameras simultaneously from different angles while others were shot separately and fused together. We have seen similar storytelling in Mike Figgis’s “Timecode,” which was obviously a much bigger undertaking with its screen split among four synchronized 93-minute single takes. Whereas Mr. Figgis used sound to suggest where we should be looking at all times, “Vortex” is more like two separate films running concurrently. Even when Mr. Noé is just following his characters around as he routinely does, there’s much more to it this time.


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