Gaspar Noé on his haunting new film ‘Vortex’: “I could have died, I could have been brain-damaged”

The visionary director tells James Mottram how a near-death experience inspired his powerful new portrait of getting older

Photo credit: © Philippe Quaisse

Gaspar Noé loves to provoke. In Irréversible, he shot one of the most graphic rape scenes ever put on film. He showed unsimulated 3D sex in Love. And his films Enter the Void and Climax featured more drugs than a Mötley Crüe rider. Yet the latest film from this 58-year-old director is a very different kettle of poisson. Vortex – starring horror maestro Dario Argento and veteran French actress Françoise Lebrun – is about dementia and the difficulties of getting older. “My father said it was my most violent movie ever!” grins Noé, when we meet for beers at a Central London cinema. Strap yourselves in…

Hi Gaspar! Vortex is a tough watch. Did it come from a dark place in your life?

“My mother had dementia years ago, she died in my arms. I know those kinds of situations. Then one day, two-and-a-half years ago, I had a brain haemorrhage in the middle of the afternoon. I could have died, I could have been brain-damaged, but I survived. At that precise moment, COVID appeared on this planet. I ended up recovering, spending five months watching all Japanese melodramas on my monitor.”

How was your recuperation? Did your life change?

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“For three weeks I was on morphine. And then when you come out from the hospital, you start getting addicted to the morphine, so they give you other kinds of opiates. But I wouldn’t take them. So for one month, I was moving from one position to the other all night long – I couldn’t sleep. But then I got rid of the addiction. And I stopped smoking. I stopped drinking hard alcohol: no gin and vodka anymore, but I’m still enjoying life. I don’t miss the cigarettes at all. I never found the need to smoke another cigarette.”

So no more partying?

“I keep on going to clubs, and I see everybody wasted around me. I have fun, but I don’t want to put myself in a situation that could make me blackout. I remember when I was shooting Enter the Void in Tokyo, I wasn’t doing drugs, but I was drinking. Often after shooting, I would go to a club and then the next morning I would wake up in my hotel room [not knowing] at which point I got home. I was drinking like there was no tomorrow.”

Your last film Climax saw people tripping their nuts off after a punchbowl gets spiked with acid. Do you know if audiences have dropped acid and watched the film?

“No, no! That thing about spiking drinks is becoming more and more common. Every day you read the newspaper [and] someone has been spiked or injected with a needle! Also, nowadays there are so many new drugs that appear that people find on the net. Not even the darknet!”

Apparently, it’s your own vintage movie poster collection featured in the house where Vortex takes place. Which is your favourite?

“I really like the poster of 2001 with the foetus – the Star Child. The one I have that is the most expensive? It’s an original poster from Germany for Fritz Lang’s M, which is a hand on a black background with the letter ‘M’ on the palm.”

You directed a few music videos in the past – including for Placebo and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Is that something you enjoy doing?

“Yeah. I don’t like spending too much time editing the videos so most of them are done as a master shot. The last one I did was for a guy called SebastiAn from France – it’s a funny one with a guy fighting in a nightclub. I mostly refuse the music videos when I don’t feel close to the music. I really liked it when Nick Cave asked me to do the video for ‘We No Who U R’. I really liked the sound. He was very inspiring.”

Your films always have great soundtrack choices, too. Do these reflect your tastes?

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“I wouldn’t like to put music I dislike in a movie. In Climax, some of the music comes from Daft Punk‘s Thomas Bangalter. There’s also a Daft Punk track [‘Rollin’ and Scratchin’] that is my favourite, there’s some Aphex Twin [‘Windowlicker’], there’s ‘Angie’ by The Rolling Stones. Even in Vortex, you can hear ‘Gracias a la vida’, which is a classic Latin American song. It’s so sad that it would make anybody cry – anybody who speaks Spanish!”

Your earlier movies, like Irréversible, were always classed as very provocative. Is it still easy to shock?

“What was the last movie that really shocked people? Climax seems very gentle compared to Irréversible. Although when the pregnant woman gets punched in the belly, I saw some people fainting.”

Are we still prudish in the UK? British censors even used to cut out erect penises.

“That’s crazy! Why are people shocked by an erect penis!? But I’m shocked – here Vortex is forbidden [for people] under 15 years old. All over the planet, it’s a general audience movie. Any kid can go see it. They even bought it for China. The first time I get a movie released in China. But I seriously don’t understand how the motherfuckers on the censors’ board in England gave this movie a 15 rating? What’s bad in this movie, that will disturb? The movie is psychologically violent, because of the cruelty of the arrow of time and the biological nature of the human experience. But I don’t see any scene that deserves a 15 rating.”

‘Vortex’ is in UK and Irish cinemas now

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