Born in Argentina and honorary French since his family moved there in 1976, director Gaspar Noé is the artist-in-residence at the Cannes film festival, bringing all his characteristics to the event since his debut in 1998. Seoul contre tous (AKA I am alone). Noah’s movies always elicit a strong backlash – many festival goers are still reeling from their 2002 rape-horror. Irreversible—Not only because of the subject but because of his innovative technical domain. Noah was last seen on the Croisette with Climax, a visceral and visually stunning hybrid of documentary and fiction in which a street dance group goes berserk after drinking LSD punch.
His last, however, is all that Climax It is not. Filmed during a locked window, Vortex stars Dario Argento as an elderly film critic whose wife (Françoise Lebrun) is slowly succumbing to dementia. Running for 145 minutes, it’s a surprisingly subtle study of a social taboo from the former shock master, with two extraordinarily gritty performances by its leads.
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TERM: You see it Vortex as a sister piece to Climax?
GASPAR NOÉ: No, no, it is not. Liza, Climax It was like a joke that turned into a movie, and the reason I did it Climax It was that I was excited by the idea of making a movie about dancers. This one is more tied to real life and real life dramas. [This story will be familiar to] all the families on this planet, especially people who are 40 or 50 years old. It’s a kind of drama that exists everywhere and that people are a bit embarrassed about. They think it’s their own cross [to bear] And they don’t want to talk about it, but since I started showing the film to journalists and friends, one person in three who is over 50 comes to me almost crying, takes me in his arms and says: “Your film … . It’s my own story. “
TERM: Why did you want to broach this topic?
Noah: Why are there so many movies about bank robberies? There’s like a bank robbery every month in France. But life is such an interesting subject – aging, time, memory, death – and I thought it was misrepresented in movies. I went through this with my grandparents, my grandmother mainly, and it had happened with my mother, and my friends were going through similar situations. I wanted to make a realistic portrait of something that makes people suffer, but it is an absolutely natural organic situation. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We are organic and everything organic disappears.
TERM: Who is this that sings the Francoise Hardy song at the beginning?
Noah: That’s Françoise Hardy. Actually, that clip was an afterthought when I started editing the movie. I was looking for music for the movie, what sad song could I use? And then I thought about this song, ‘Mon Amie La Rose’, which is about time and how time passes fast and everything that is born will die. This song is quite well known in France, as [The Beatles’] ‘Yesterday’ in America. So I went to YouTube and found this video made by Swiss TV when Françoise Hardy was just starting to sing, and she is so beautiful at it. [clip]. At first, I said, “Oh, it doesn’t make sense to put that at the beginning of the movie.” But then I realized that does it make sense. When you’re editing a movie, you start to notice what works and what doesn’t. So we downloaded it, I edited it into the movie, and I cried seeing it because it worked so well. So we buy the rights. The other strange thing is that Françoise Hardy herself is in the process of [dealing with] unconditional cancer and is requesting assisted euthanasia at this time. The song is about a flower, the most beautiful flower in the garden that dies, so it has a very strong link with the theme of the film.
TERM: The casting is amazing. Why did you think of Francoise Lebrun?
Noah: Did you see the film La maman et la putain ? It is probably one of the strongest cult films in France, especially among directors. It is a film that lasts 3 hours and 40 minutes and was made by Jean Eustache, a director who had a short career because he committed suicide. [in 1981]. But I’m obsessed with that movie, especially the character that Françoise plays. It has a long monologue that is one of the most moving scenes in movie history. So when I was looking for an actress for my film, she was the one I most admired of her generation.
TERM: Did you know her?
Noah: I didn’t know her before, I met her briefly once at the Cannes film festival a few years ago. We say hello and goodbye, and that’s it. So it was a big gamble for me, if she would agree to be in this movie. She is the most professional actress in the city, but I told her: “I am not going to give you lines, I am not going to give lines to whoever plays your husband or your son, I just want situations to be created in placing. And in your case, it will be much more difficult, because people who lose their minds [to dementia] They also lose their language, so I’ll ask them to be mumbling all the time instead of saying things that make sense. I want you to play the role with your eyes and your body. “
TERM: What made you think of Dario Argento?
Noah: I needed someone who could make the character identifiable. Corey, the son, is a lost junkie who is full of good intentions but is ready to destroy himself. The mother is also lost, but she is lost because of what is happening inside her body and inside her brain. So the only character that seems normal and that you can relate to and identify with is the character of Dario. Now Dario and I became friends many years ago in Toronto, when I was showing my first short film and he was projecting a movie. I always thought he was funny and charismatic. When I was showing a film at the French Cinematheque, I could speak for an hour without asking questions. He received a standing ovation because he was so much fun on stage. I thought, “Oh, I love this guy, I need to film him, even if it’s just once in my life.” And then I never had a chance.
TERM: What changed?
Noah: He was about to start directing his new role, and due to Covid he was delayed. So I said, “Ah, is there any chance that you will act in my movie?” He was my first choice and he finally agreed. Asia, his daughter, helped me a lot to convince him. And then he came and we made the movie. We shot it in five weeks and edited it in eight. The movie was shot in April and May this year, and I wrote the script in January, February.
TERM: So it all came together in six months?
Noah: Yes. I got the idea at the end of January. I wrote ten pages in February [we financed it], and then the producers rented the house we found to create the location. I started casting and we shot in April and May.
TERM: How much did you improvise?
Noah: Everything was improvised. Of course, I would give you some advice before you jump on the scene and do what you see fit. Barbet Schroeder, a director that I love, came to a screening in Paris and told me that the strange thing about this movie is that you sit there watching real life and you don’t feel like nobody is improvising, because there are a lot of tics that come with improvisations that are very obvious. And he said: “In this case, it feels like a documentary, but from time to time you remember that it is not, because they are Dario Argento and Françoise Lebrun.” Acting is amazing because it doesn’t feel like acting.
TERM: Have you always intended to use split screen?
Noah: I had the idea, but I thought I would only use it for some scenes. But after about three days of shooting, the two-camera scenes looked much better than the others, so we re-filmed some elements to make it possible to have a split-screen movie.
TERM: It also has a very muted color scheme, almost like Instagram. Normally your movies are very daring and brilliant, what did you think there?
Noah: For this one I wanted to be realistic. It’s set in that little house, with little windows on one side, and it’s a sad story, so it wouldn’t make sense to do a hyper-colorful color gradient when the story isn’t colorful. And the Instagram [comparisons], that’s because people are no longer used to the most square [screen] formats of the past. The movie is in CinemaScope and the CinemaScope ratio is 2:40. So if you cut it in two, you have two images that have a 1:20 ratio, which looks like old silent movies. It’s not the 1: 1 ratio that people use on Instagram.
TERM: How would you like people to respond? Vortex?
Noah: I would like people to respond to this movie the way I respond when I watch a Keisuke Kinoshita movie. During the confinement, I discovered some old classics of Japanese cinema, Mizoguchi, Naruse and Kinoshita, and I probably spent the best moments of that time in front of my DVD player watching those old Japanese melodramas.