Aging is not for the faint of heart. Neither is this movie

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | May 26, 2022

Broadway Theatre
Opens May 28
4.5 out of 5

Anyone who’s followed Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé since his early provocations (I Stand Alone, Irreversible) knows his movies are more to be endured than enjoyed. But now that Hollywood revolves around tights and capes, Noé’s work feels bold and refreshing.

Vortex may seem more gentile than other Noé films (no one’s head gets brutalized beyond recognition, and nobody spikes the punch with acid), but it’s also far more universal, meaning it’s more likely to mess with your head.

The film is dedicated to “all those whose brains will decompose before their heart” (Noé’s warnings of rough sailing ahead never get old). Set in a cluttered, poorly kept old house, Vortex chronicles the decline of two once brilliant people dealing with their own and each other’s decay.

The unnamed protagonist (horror master Dario Argento in his first acting role) is a film critic with a bad heart and little patience. His wife (Françoise Lebrun) is a former doctor who suffers from dementia but has enough presence of mind to prescribe drugs for herself and her husband.

The cumulative effect of age-related catastrophes takes its toll on their relationship and mental health. Their son (Alex Lutz) tries to lend a hand, but as a single parent barely holding on to sobriety his ability to support his parents is limited.

Noé’s portrait of aging is honest and too close for comfort. There’s no hope for improvement or room for solace. Unlike Michael Haneke’s Amour, Vortex doesn’t believe in flights of fancy or poetic endings. Heck, it doesn’t believe in love, as the couple at the center of the movie seem brought together by fate rather than choice.

For most of Vortex, the audience is treated to a split screen that follows both leads. Far from ornamental, the approach accentuates the protagonists’ diverging realities and growing isolation.

At two hours 22 minutes, Vortex is a hefty proposition. As usual with Noé you have to put up with a cumbersome setup. But if you go to the theatre for nutrition, not fun, Vortex is unmissable.