Argento plays Lui, the ailing film-critic husband of retired psychiatrist Elle (Françoise Lebrun), whose dementia ebbs and flows across a couple of days. The pair share a Parisian apartment, cluttered with his books and papers, and well stocked with powerful medicines. While he still has ambitions for the future and big plans to write a book, her lucid moments are consumed with guilt and self-recrimination. Maybe, she mutters distractedly, suicide would make life easier for them all. To add a further medical Damoclean sword to the scenario, Lui has a heart condition.
This tough situation is compounded by the tricky dynamic with their fortysomething son, Stéphane (French comedian Alex Lutz). His well-intentioned attempts to coax a practical solution out of his parents is given further urgency when it’s revealed that he’s a recovering junkie, as well as a single dad to a moppet of a son.
Noé’s material is less brutally in-your-face than usual but the gut-punch impact remains
Noé has built a singular rep for pushing at the boundaries of arthouse cinema, whether via Irreversible’s shuddersome violence or the magnificent Enter the Void’s (very) extreme close-ups. And while the material here is less brutally in-your-face than usual, the gut-punch impact and experimental edge remain. Vortex is presented via a split-screen that follows Lui and Elle – and occasionally Stéphane – independently. Aside from giving your eyes a decision to make in every moment of its lengthy runtime, it works to emphasise the way time moves at a different speed in a mind life ravaged by dementia. It also doubles the misery.This is obviously a deeply personal subject for Noé, who has spoken about experiencing the fallout of dementia first-hand. But while his film gradually pummels you, it can’t match 2021’s superb dementia chamber piece The Father for impact or insight. As it grinds towards its slightly contrived ending, it does start to feel like rubbernecking.
In UK cinemas Fri May 13.