With “Vortex”, in cinemas this April 13, Gaspar Noé films the descent into hell of an elderly couple and offers his most personal film. AlloCiné met the director, Dario Argento, Françoise Lebrun and Alex Lutz.
Sensorial and transgressive, the films of Gaspar Noé are not known to leave marble. With Vortex, the director offers his most personal work and continues to hit where it hurts. He films an elderly couple living in a small Parisian apartment and documents their descent into hell, between mental decomposition and loss of bearings.
Senility is a very present subject in the cinema. Just remember The Father by Frenchman Florian Zeller, which won Anthony Hopkins his second Oscar, but also Falling by Viggo Mortensen or, in another genre, Relic by Natalie Erika James. Gaspar Noé, true to his reputation, works this material in his own way. The drama, which uses split-screen, draws its strength from the realism of the situations. The director follows his actors in total improvisation and through numerous sequence shots.
To bring his two central characters to life, he brought together two film giants: Françoise Lebrun (The Mom and the Whore) and the Italian director Dario Argento, master of the Giallo. In his intentions, Gaspar Noé is clear: “I had already made films that were scary, that made you bend or that made you laugh. This time, I wanted to make a film that would make you cry as hard as I could cry in life as in the cinema.”
Successful bet. The violence of Vortex is not graphic, as is the case in his other feature films. She is silent and imposes herself as the couple rushes into a black hole that continues to devour them. “I knew I wanted to tell a story about the end of a couple’s life. I saw similar situations with my grandparents, with my motherexplains the filmmaker to AlloCinethe day after the screening of the film at the 74th Cannes Film Festival, in July 2021.
“The life that decomposes, it is something generalizedhe continues. People are ashamed of it. It’s like a family secret. It’s helpful to show these survival mechanisms that kick in as soon as people start having neurons that don’t work anymore..”
At least with Gaspar Noé, I knew they weren’t going to ask me to be a grandmother who bakes a yoghurt cake.
In Vortex, Dario Argento signs the first role of his career. Usually, the director of Suspiria prefers to direct the others. “Gaspar Noé has been a friend since his first attempts in the cinema. When he offered me the film, I said to him: ‘I’m not an actor, I’m a director.’he recalls. Then he came to Rome for a whole day and convinced me to do something neo-realistic. It was wonderful to be together, to confront each other, to improvise and to create this interpretation.”
For Gaspar Noé, “Dario is a stage beast”. “I said to him: ‘It’s not up to me to explain to you how to work, you know how to direct actors, you take charge of your character. I trust you and he said to me: ‘Yes I know!‘”, recalls the filmmaker.
Same state of mind on the side of Alex Lutz, who plays the son. “I was very impressed by Dario, while wanting to go to him. I used that to create the father-son relationship.” In front of the filmmaker’s camera, the actor – known for his love of comedy and his taste for transformation – plays a young father lost in the maze of drug addiction. “He is the embodiment of emotional deprivation. I do comedy on stage, but in the cinema, I love to take on dramatic roles.”
Françoise Lebrun embodies the film’s most complex character. “I didn’t know Gaspar Noé’s films, but everything about his reputationshe admits. At least with him, I knew that I was not going to be asked to be a grandmother who makes a yogurt cake.” To prepare, the actress refuses to read the 15-page script. She prefers to delve into documentaries and medical journals to understand cognitive issues.
After five weeks of filming, I felt like I had stepped out of a submarine. I lacked oxygen.
This role of mother, through whom the drama happens, is inspired by that of Gaspar Noe. “Later, during the filming, he showed me things he had filmed with herrecalls Françoise Lebrun. I understood, with this film, that no profile was alike. There is no user manual. Everyone builds their own degeneration.”
Shot in full confinement, the film was made with about fifteen people, locked in a narrow space – the apartment. “It was very claustrophobicremembers Gaspar Noé. After five weeks of filming, I felt like I had stepped out of a submarine. I lacked oxygen.” A feeling that shines through on screen as the walls of the apartment seem to close in on the viewer. Dario Argento, with a smile on his face, concludes the interview: “It was a wonderful adventure, which I will never do again.”
Interview by Thomas Desroches, in Cannes, in July 2021.
Vortex by Gaspar Noé, at the cinema on April 13.