‘Vortex’ Review: A Split Screen and a Shared Fate

In the abstract, maybe — and also in movies like “The Father,” “Still Alice” and “Amour,” a Paris-set tragedy that “Vortex” very much resembles — but Noé is less interested in clinical details than in sensations and states of consciousness. A prominent avatar of what’s sometimes called the New French Extremity, he has specialized in immersive spectacles of shock, cruelty and disorientation. His films (“Irreversible,” “Enter the Void” and “Climax,” among others) don’t merely traffic in explicit images of sex, violence, sexual violence and drug-induced frenzy. They push at the boundaries of audience experience and defy conventions of cinematic space and time, trying not to represent reality but rather to supplant it.

“Every movie is a dream,” the husband in “Vortex” muses, and his elaborations on the idea might serve as a running commentary on the movie he’s in. (He also likes to quote Edgar Allan Poe, who asked, “Is all that we see or seem/But a dream within a dream?”) Argento, a venerable Italian horror auteur, speaks with some authority on the matter, since, like Noé, he is an uncompromising creator of cinematic nightmares. This one is all the more unsettling for being grounded in the mundane.

After a brief prologue that consists of a scene of the couple sipping wine on their terrace and that luminous Françoise Hardy clip, the screen splits into two squares with rounded corners and a narrow gutter in the middle. Sometimes, when the husband and wife are together, the images overlap, presenting slightly different angles on the same action. More often, each spouse occupies a separate frame, and they move in counterpoint through familiar routines and periods of panic and confusion, a technique that emphasizes their isolation from each other even in their most intimate moments.

When their son, Stéphane (Alex Lutz), comes to visit, alone or with their young grandson (Kylian Dheret), the rhythms become both calmer and more chaotic. Stéphane tries to be a reassuring, reasonable presence in his parents’ lives, but his own history of mental illness and drug addiction makes this difficult. Mom’s unpredictability and Dad’s stubbornness don’t help.

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