Gaspar Noé: “As soon as people see a penis in the UK, they think they’ve seen the devil” | Film

On December 29, 2019, after several days of Christmas treats, Gaspar Noé felt a funny feeling in his head. When the ambulance arrived, he was told he had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage; doctors later said he had a 50% chance of dying, a 35% chance of surviving with brain damage, and a 15% chance of surviving unscathed. “I said to myself, ‘I must not die,’ he said, ‘because it’s not very pleasant for everyone to have to sort through all my things.’ So maybe my collection of movie posters saved me: maybe they threw away my Fritz Lang posters, because they don’t know what they’re worth.

A little over two years later, grimacing on a Zoom link (his nickname: fritzlang), the Argentinian director, settled in France at 13, is completely recovered. But he could have had brain damage – something that was still on his mind when, in January last year, he was asked to write a project proposal to film in lockdown. This led to a complete departure for the offensive serial bad boy of modern French cinema: his new film Vortex, a dark and decidedly unprovocative look at dementia and aging. Even more surprisingly, it stars none other than Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. The director responsible for ultra-violent classics like Suspiria and Deep Red is also on our Zoom call, from his home in Rome.

“It was the good Lord who helped you,” the 81-year-old says of Noah’s haemorrhage.

“Oh, that’s what you think!” said Noah, laughing nervously. He is not a believer, he says: “I hope that Dario will put me on the path of light!

‘I hope Dario will put me on the path to light!’ : Argento and Noé at the preview of their new film Vortex in Paris, 2022. Photography: Stéphane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images

Noah rose to fame after 2002’s Irreversible, which garnered much controversy for its uninterrupted nine-minute rape scene and an earlier sequence in which someone’s head is bludgeoned into mush with a fire extinguisher. In recent years, it has had diminishing returns with such shock tactics: 2015’s Love, though attracting highly advanced press for its non-simulated 3D sex scenes, proved to be a lackluster affair, and Climax , the LSD-enhanced dance of 2018, was only fleeting. , confused fun. But now, at the age of 58, Noé has been shaken into his most focused and mature work. Many compare Vortex to Amour, Michael Haneke’s 2012 film about life’s last mile that was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar; it also lines up nicely with Anthony Hopkins’ dementia drama The Father, which Noah raves about. “They swap the actors playing the characters, so it feels like you’re in the head of someone going crazy. The movie kinda drives you crazy. Did you see it, Dario? (Dario didn’t not done.)

In Vortex, Argento plays “Lui” (“Him”), an elderly film critic living in a labyrinthine Parisian apartment with his wife “Elle” (“She”, played by veteran French actress Françoise Lebrun), a former psychiatrist in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a claustrophobic, largely unadorned account of his growing confusion, his struggle to write a book about movies and dreams, and the recovering drug-addicted son who flounders to try to help them. But Vortex has a conceptual Noah twist: it’s filmed in a disconcerting split-screen that, following the two of them, puts the separated hemispheres of your brain into a quarrel.

Dario Argento in Him and Françoise Lebrun in Elle in Vortex.
Dario Argento in Him and Françoise Lebrun in Elle in Vortex.

Noé always thought of Argento for Lui, but the older director wasn’t keen on the idea of ​​acting at first. “I didn’t like the idea,” Argento recalled, shrugging moodily, a framed poster of Rear Window on the wall behind him. “I am a director, not an actor. I don’t like being on camera with people telling you what to say. But Noé encouraged him by comparing the project to Umberto D, Vittorio De Sica’s classic 1952 Italian neorealist drama about a poor pensioner, and told him that Vortex would be entirely improvised. “It gave me a kind of enthusiasm,” Argento says. “To improvise the film like the neorealist directors, who took people off the streets and put them in the film.”

Neorealism seems like an odd starting point for the pair, with their commitment to cinematic excess. They’ve known each other since 1991, when Noé approached the older director at the Toronto Film Festival to attend a screening of Carne, the 38-minute film that was a prequel to his shocking feature debut, Seul Contre Tous (I Stand Alone). ). “I saw something in that kid’s eyes, so I accepted,” Argento said. “And the movie was very interesting.”

Argento’s work in giallo, the garish ’70s horror-thriller, has always been a touchpoint – “ultra-playful, ultra-sensual, ultra-colorful” – for Noé. “When you go to the cinema, he says, it’s sometimes like going to the carnival. I don’t know if Dario’s films are ghost trains or roller coasters or both. But every time a new Dario Argento arrives, I want to get on board.

The pair seem tight-knit: Hard to steer them as they trade cinematic war stories, the silver-haired Argento has more face these days than his 70s goth appearance, while mustachioed Noah laughs like a pirate on leave. Seemingly in good name, he gave up his hedonistic lifestyle, quitting drugs, smoking, liquor and salting his food. During his recovery, he also sticks to a strict film regime, at least one film a day: “It excites me. Cinema is my drug. he says.

The film took shape in an “ambience of illness and death”, says Noé, in which he lost three irreplaceable father figures in his life: the father of his partner Lucile Hadzihalilovic; Philippe Nahon, main actor of Carne and Alone Against All; and Fernando Solanas, his first boss but also his father’s best friend. But he was above all inspired by his mother Nora who, before she died several years ago, suffered from dementia. His father, the painter Luis Felipe Noé, loved him even more than the character of Argento: “He was upright, exemplary. He was just as loving, even considering all the difficulties.

The presence of an older director on set seems to have galvanized Noé. He used to do multiple takes, up to 12 on Climax. But Argento is a faster worker. “After the second take, Dario was like, ‘That’s it, we’re done,'” says Noé. “I would ask for a third, and he would go: [grumbling] “Gasp! So I tried to do it at his pace; you have to do it right from the start.

From left to right: Dario Argento, Alex Lutz and Françoise Lebrun in Vortex.
From left to right: Dario Argento, Alex Lutz and Françoise Lebrun in Vortex.

Argento’s contribution – crafting his character details and improvising all the dialogue – went beyond that of most actors, most striking in a scene that, in its own way, is as gruesome as any. which of the opera murders he concocted for his own films. Noah tried to help by getting real material from people dying in agony: “He sent them away saying, ‘What is this? I know how people die! Get out of here with your stupid videos.'”

Maybe at 81 it was too close to home? But Argento says he doesn’t think about death. “I don’t understand this ‘old age’,” he says with a hint of a smile. “I feel like when I made my first film – the same spirit, the same ideas.” (While shooting Vortex, he was preparing his 19th film as a director: Dark Glasses, another giallo thriller.)

If Argento is synonymous with giallo, Noé was put on hold with the New French Extremity, the transgressive crowd of Gallic directors of the 90s which also included Leos Carax, Catherine Breillat and Virginie Despentes. The move is being celebrated this month with a BFI season, but Noah thinks the label basically makes no sense: his peers were just a diverse group of people with good cinematic taste who took advantage of the funding scheme liberal-minded French people to do the “sulphurous” work they wanted to see. in the United States they think they’ve seen the devil, it’s amazing how stuck they are.

Françoise Lebrun and Dario Argento in Vortex by Gasper Noé.
Françoise Lebrun and Dario Argento in Vortex by Gasper Noé.

But now the former provocateur has inadvertently made a movie for everyone. After seeing him, people want to talk to him about their experiences caring for the elderly. “There are three types of viewers,” he says. “Those who have lived it, those who live it or those who will live it.” He was nervous, however, about one viewer’s verdict: his father’s. “He didn’t say much for a day, then he looked at it again. He said: “I like it a lot, but it’s by far the most violent film you’ve done”. It describes the harshness of life as it affects the majority of people.

Perhaps the secret to living life well is knowing when to quit. Argento insists his latest acting career move is only for one night: “Vortex is the first and last movie I’ve done as an actor,” he says. As for Noé, the film is a kind of “projection”, given his family history (his maternal grandmother also suffered from dementia) and his own fear of health. “I’m more predestined to end up in this state than I am now,” he said, his eyes drifting wistfully. But, beyond that, he is calm. Every life, after all, awaits the great Fin: ” It’s not so bad. It’s just the end of the movie.

Vortex hits theaters on Friday May 13. The season Cruel Flesh: Films from the New French End works at BFI Southbank, London, throughout the month of May.

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