CANNES, France – Gaspar Noé is an integral part of the Cannes Film Festival, but this year he’s coming under the directorship: after the director shot his new film Vortex in secrecy in April and May, he rushed to get it in time for a festival premiere. The film finally made its debut on Friday evening, the last regular day of the festival; Noé had just finished it days earlier.
Perhaps it is fitting that “Vortex” arrived at the end of the festival, because Noé records what happens at the end of our lives. On the split screen, the film follows an older couple who are hanging around their untidy Parisian apartment. A camera follows the woman suffering from dementia (Françoise Lebrun), who tries to understand her surroundings; the other follows her husband (the film director Dario Argento), who deals with her condition and calls his lover.
Although Noé has caused a sensation through past festivals with provocative projects such as “Irreversible”, “Climax” and the pornographic 3-D film “Love”, his new film radiates a different, more contemplative atmosphere. When we spoke earlier this week, Noé said that his attitude changed after major events in his own life. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation:
When did the idea of old age and death feel more real to you?
There are shifts in your life. My mother died in my arms and when that happens your perception of what really is changes a little. I also had a sudden brain hemorrhage a year and a half ago and almost died from it. They said, “There is a 10 percent chance you will survive without brain damage.” Miraculously, I did.
As you approach such situations – a car accident, illness, or whatever – the problem is not whether you should have an afterlife, which of course I don’t believe in. The problem is, what will everyone around you do with your things, with your books, with the bills that you haven’t paid? My main worry while lying in that hospital bed was, “If I die, no one will be able to manage all of the books I have on the shelves.” The mess you carry around is what keeps you alive.
What was your first experience with an elderly person who was losing their mental faculties?
When I was 8 or 9 years old, I met a friend who had a senile grandmother in his house. I came and talked to grandma and she said: “Who are you? You’re not my grandson. ”I remember giving different answers to the same question because as a child you can have fun with it. When your own mother or father goes insane, it is much more traumatic.
You’ve been carrying the idea of ”Vortex” with you for a long time. How different would it have been if you had made it years ago?
I wouldn’t have done the split screen two years ago. For example, I really liked the movie The Father, but it’s a play, it’s very artificial. I said, “Well, I’m not going to do that. Let’s try to do something that could be playful in its form. ”Then I came up with this concept of shooting the film with two cameras and each camera following one of the characters as if their lives were both complementary and separate. It’s a story of two tunnels of life.
Dario Argento is better known as a film director and has never directed a film as an actor. How did you convince him?
When I started preparing this film it was my very first idea, but I didn’t know if it would accept or not. And so I met him at his house one morning, I came up with this 10-page script and we went to see Love together, which was probably not a good idea. I asked him to be in a serious movie and at the same time we were watching this adult film that I was making. In the morning! But eventually he accepted on one condition. He said, “Oh, I would like the character to have a lover.” I said, “Of course.” I like making films with people who have their characters and their dialogues.
You are really asking Argento and Françoise Lebrun to face the end of their lives by playing these characters. Was that difficult for you?
When I see them, they are not afraid of death. They’re scared of not having fun! They are very playful and none of them are a scared person. It seems like the moment you are born you are aware of the emptiness you are standing on. But in their cases they have all this future life ahead of them that they want to play with, even if it doesn’t last long. And movies are a game.
A few years ago, I spoke to you in Cannes after your film “Climax” got great reviews. You told me that you were a little surprised at this reaction. Usually they polarize more strongly.
I’m happy when the films are well received, I’m just so used to bad reviews. I enjoy them – sometimes I put bad reviews on the wall – but I think you pay more attention to the reviews if you have doubts about the feeling you are conveying. Film directors of the past usually say that their favorite films were the ones that were most hated when they came out. “Irreversible” was probably my meanest, dirtiest film and that was my only commercial success to this day! And the one that could have been a success was “Love”, but it was sold to Netflix. Everyone saw it, but I didn’t get a penny from it. It’s like a ghost blockbuster.
“Love” even became a TikTok meme and topped Netflix’s most watched list.
If you want to jerk off in America and Europe and don’t know where to find a magazine in your parents’ house, just tune in to Netflix and watch the recommended erotic film. So I guess the whole planet waxed two or three years into this movie.
People in Cannes compare “Vortex” with Michael Haneke’s “Love”. Would you agree
You know what? Haneke didn’t invent senility. He didn’t invent old age. I was very touched when I saw “Amour”. My mother was dying, and I think I never cried more in a darkened movie theater than when I saw that movie. But I would have made this film even if “Amour” hadn’t existed.
Are you scared of dying?
No. Because of this brain haemorrhage, I feel like I have more time and want to enjoy it.
There are also filmmakers who strive for some kind of immortality through their work. Is that something that you draw some strength from?
I think it’s easier when you are a writer or a painter. For example, my father was a painter and once he has painted, the picture is always there and does not change. If you are a director, your films will be shown now [via a Digital Cinema Package] that has a code key where you can’t open the hard drive if you don’t have the number. Chances are, all of the movies we make today won’t be able to open all those little black boxes in the near future. So even with films you can’t think of immortality. If your film is still 10 or 20 years after your own death, that’s great.