If I didn't know this was the work of Argentinian auteur Gaspar Noe before I started, I probably wouldn't have guessed, save for the giveaway credit font and split screen approach to the storytelling, which seemed quirky and an effect that Noe could have easily employed should he have a mind to.
Written after suffering his own brain haemorrhage, this story takes on a whole new meaning for the Director who in the past has been responsible for some of Europe's most controversial cinematic offerings, making something of a notorious name for himself into the bargain. I was expecting to be shocked, but maybe not the way he intended this time.
Arguably, you could say this more solemn, contemplative approach to his work is a result of that brush with his own demise and the vicarious, hedonistic shock treatment applied to his earlier works could well be maturing. I expect he will follow this up with the opposite, just to keep his army of admirers guessing. For the moment, it appears time for an entirely different message. Like all of his projects, he has something to say, and is far from shy voicing his opinion.
He here tackles the final days of an elderly couple, ravaged by dementia. Unglamorous in the extreme, this is a condition many of us will be all too familiar with, and suffice to say Noe handles this delicate story with all of his consummate skill. This is a painful, deliberately slow, drawn out and prolonged example of an ordinary life disappearing in front of our eyes.
We are battered by humdrum normality and the relentless, uncaring removal from reality by a disease that withers from the brain, stealing last days with loved ones, killing the happiness of a life lived by removing recollection. Argento and Lebrun are fantastic in the main roles of the couple killing time before this unforgiving marauder whisks away their very beings.
Whilst this is not a new idea per se, many films have tackled the topic, not least most recently 'The Father' with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, scooping a handful of Oscars in the process, but Noe's effort here is more visceral. It feels more real. More everyday human. Both this and The Father have done credible justice to a highly emotive subject. coming at it from very different angles.
The split screen is introduced at the very start of the film, representing the very real distance between two people that have known and loved each other for decades and so this 'two for the price of one' view pervades throughout, both telling the story of each individual's experiences, though highlighting their nearness of proximity.
Having been touched by this myself in my own family, this is a subject that runs both deep and raw, angered by the pointless tragedy of it all, a feeling that Noe captures brilliantly here. This is by far his most accessible piece of work, though it is unapologetically long and at times harrowing in the most realistic of ways.