Then f**ks: and then fights
Then judging chaps’ rights
Then sitting in slippers; then drooling.
Boy, it always ends the same way, doesn’t it. And then again, as Bernstein says in “Citizen Kane” about old age: “It’s the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don’t look forward to being cured of.”
What better subject, then, for one-time cinematic enfant terrible Gaspar Noé to confront? In a sense, it’s no surprise that this hammeringly realistic chronicle is his most nightmarish film. As it happens, it’s also his most compassionate.
“Vortex” begins with what are usually a film’s end credits, but unlike “Irreversible,” his 2002 provocation, this movie does not unspool backwards; the tail end is presented first because this is a movie about endings. Its dedication is “To all those whose brains will decompose before their hearts.”
The unnamed couple in the movie are introduced by the years of their birth, which we will see matches the birth years of their embodiers—1940 for Dario Argento, 1944 for Françoise Lebrun. We first see them on the outdoor patio of their Paris apartment, drinking a genial toast. It’s the sole moment of serenity we’ll witness between Him and Her. Noe also presents a 1964 video of French singer Françoise Hardy singing the winsome tune “Mon Amie la Rose” and somehow here the chanteuse’s fresh-faced beauty is itself heartbreaking. And from here the movie doesn’t let up.
As with his recent short film “Lux Aeterna,” here Noé keeps in split-screen mode almost throughout. Right off the bat, he uses it to terrifying effect. As Argento’s character putters in his office and starts typing in the classic two-finger pecking method (his character is, as it happens, a film historian/critic, writing a book about cinema’s relation to dreams), Lebrun’s Her takes out the trash … and wanders into the streets of her neighborhood, without aim. She goes into a dark sundries store and asks where the toys are. What toys? And for whom.