Irréversible Movie Review

It's hard to imagine a more unpleasant film than Irréversible, a tale of sexual and physical violence that pulls out all the stops in attempting to shock its audience. The new film by French filmmaker Gaspar Noé - whose last feature, I Stand Alone, boasted a 30-second warning countdown before its graphic finale - is determined to rub our noses in the horrid realities of life, kicking things off with a nauseating murder and culminating in a revolting nine-minute rape sequence that garnered intense controversy at the film's 2002 Cannes Film Festival debut. Noé wants us to sit transfixed on the horrific because he's convinced that, by making us do so, he is exposing our naïve bourgeois minds to the grim, unforgiving "real" world. We are the students, he the teacher, and one can imagine Noé, as well as the film's admirers, arguing that those who don't like (or get) the film are simply sheltered ignoramuses afraid to admit that life isn't as warm and cozy as we think it is.

The supposed wisdom imparted by Irréversible is, unfortunately, wholly unoriginal in theory and decidedly odious in practice. To Noé, man is, regardless of his civilized facade, a vicious animal driven by primitive instincts. Homosexuality and femininity are the enemies of masculinity, and should be treated with suspicion and disgust. The modern world, and Paris in particular, is a cesspool of vice and depravity. And the only way to fully convey these themes is to depict them unflinchingly, without restraint or decency. The film, like far too many recent French imports (Baise-moi, Romance), mistakenly embraces blunt shock tactics as the surest means of capturing artless reality.

Noé's rape and revenge fantasy charts the course of happy couple Marcus and Alex (real-life husband and wife Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci) as they spend a night on the town with Alex's semi-foppish former boyfriend Pierre (Albert Dupontel). Alex and Marcus get into a fight at a party, and she leaves for home alone. In a blood-red underpass, she's raped and beaten within an inch of her life. When Alex and Pierre become aware of the rape, they take to the streets and, with the guidance of some underworld thugs, arrive at a homosexual S&M club in pursuit of revenge. Their search ends with Pierre smashing the alleged (but incorrect) perpetrator's face in with a fire extinguisher.

The title Irréversible is clearly meant to be both deadly serious (since the events depicted are unalterable) and deeply ironic, as Noé structures his film in reverse chronology a lá Christopher Nolan's Memento so that he can start with the appalling end and finish with the story's much happier beginning. Thus, the fire extinguisher beating takes place first, followed by Marcus and Pierre's frantic search for the man they believe committed the rape, the vicious assault itself, and lastly the tranquil daytime bliss of Marcus and Alex enjoying each other's company in bed. On the one hand, Noé tries to use this backwards chronology as a film school trick: He wants to show us that, as the omnipotent author of this film, he alone has the power to reverse the irreversible. However, one can't escape the sneaking suspicion that this device is, in the end, merely a desperate effort to gussy up an otherwise straightforward revenge fantasy of men succumbing to their basest instincts.

Each scene (lasting roughly 10 minutes) is composed of one long, unbroken take, and as the film progresses (regresses?) from hellish nightmare to heavenly dream, the jerky, frantically unhinged cinematography becomes gracefully serene. Despite the sometimes repugnant subject matter, one cannot deny that Noé has an eye for framing, and his anamorphic widescreen compositions and mise en scène - especially striking in the party scene, which finds the camera effortlessly gliding behind Marcus, then Bellucci, as they navigate through the crowded gathering's revelers - can be breathtaking in their expressiveness.

Like I Stand Alone - which traced the unraveling of a Taxi Driver-esque loner as he roamed Paris' streets looking for trouble - Noé's new effort promotes the idea that, as one character bluntly states, "Vengeance is a human right" that is distinctly "a man's business. No pussies allowed." But whereas his previous film used male rage (both real and imagined) as a means of critiquing 1980s France, Irréversible has virtually nothing unique to say about 21st century human relations or society. This is confirmed by the anticlimactic final act, in which Marcus and Alex cavort naked in bed, wrapped in gauzy yellow hues that contrast with the blazing red of the rape scene and the interior of the gay club. After enduring the preceding horrors, the trite vacuity of these domestic scenes - which paint an unconvincingly idyllic portrait of suburban innocence ignorant to the sadism of the outside world - is laughable. Noé continually hammers home the point that "Time destroys everything." Thankfully, that rule will also apply to Irréversible.

Her reverse.

Cast & Crew

Director : Gaspar Noé


Comments

Irréversible Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: NR, 2002

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