Wednesday, May 18, 2022

A film that lingers on death's doorstep

     How’s this for an evening’s entertainment? Spend two-plus hours watching an aging couple (she has Alzheimer’s; he has heart trouble) teetering on death’s doorstep? With Vortex, director Gaspar Noe (Irreversible, Climax, and Love) moves as far from feel-good escapism as possible to deliver a movie that refuses to blink while its two unnamed characters approach death. Presenting scenes in split screen, which Noe does, may sound gimmicky but the technique emphasizes the isolation of a husband and wife who have shared lots of history but who sometimes seem only to be occupying the same space. He’s an intellectual who writes about film; she was a psychiatrist. We know — without being told — that this couple lived a life of engagement with ideas and the people who espoused them. Their apartment has come to resemble a used book store with shelves and piles of books in every nook and cranny. Without employing flashbacks, Noe paints a picture of a marriage that produced a now-grown son (Alex Lutz) with drug problems and a kid of his own. Italian director Dario Argento portrays the writer, an Italian transplant to France, and Francoise Lebrun, perhaps best known for her work in  Jean Eustache’s 1973 The Mother and the Whore, plays the woman. Lebrun’s performance — a mixture of shifting attitudes and infirmity — merits special attention. It’s difficult to argue that Vortex isn’t a bit of an ordeal but Noe’s willingness to shift from bad-boy outrage (Love included what were described as real sex scenes) to a style based on the kind of unadorned observation that reminds us that the mortality we all share can have a merciless edge.

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