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Irreversible (NR)
Lions Gate
Official Site
Director: Gasper Noé
Producer: Christophe Rossignon, Richard Grandpierre
Written by: Gasper Noé
Cast: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel, Jo Prestia, Philippe Nahon

*** Note: Spoilers and Two Different Reviews ***

Vadim Rizov's Rating : out of 5
Sarah Andrews' Rating :
out of 5

Vadim Rizov's Review
Rating: out of 5

The last time a controversial, rape-filled French import, Baise-moi (Rape Me), landed on American shores, it turned out to be an over-hyped waste of time, made by ex-porn stars who quickly disappeared into deeper obscurity than before. The end credits, however, gave thanks to a new cinematic psychopath of genuine artistic interest, Gasper Noé, whose Seul contre tous (I Stand Alone) was a sort of first-person psychotic episode. Now, with the unfortunate announced intention of wanting to make a film “that would get banned,” Noé has returned with Irreversible, which offers up a nine-minute sodomy-rape, provoking numerous (and for once non-apocryphal) stories of festival walk-outs. Fortunately, Irreversible turns out to be considerably more interesting than the sum of its controversies, although it’s a film of notable flaws, mostly stemming from its juvenile desire to disturb.

Irreversible borrows Memento’s reverse structure, but there the similarities definitively end. Memento had a twist ending and whodunit structure; Irreversible merely seeks to make a fatalist point. We progress from violence to its cause to the innocence and happiness that existed beforehand. Marcus (Cassel) has his girlfriend Alex (Bellucci) raped, and seeks macho revenge, with devastating results.

Arguably first and foremost, Irreversible is a formidable display of technical prowess. Using a vertiginous handheld camera at virtually all times, Noé manages to eliminate all obvious cuts by ending all scenes with the camera moving upward to face the ceiling and dissolving into an abstract cluster of changing lights, then panning down for the next sequence, with the gap seamlessly edited out via digital techniques. One of the first sequences is an subliminal nightmare of suggestive imagery: Marcus wanders through a gay bar, where quick, appalled glances on either side reveal, through Marcus’s homophobic eyes, unspeakable depravities. Later, however, Noé takes in Bellucci’s sodomization in a single, brutal close-up. The problem with the rape, however, is that after it stops being horrifying, it becomes numbing, and finally boring.

Fortunately, Noé is after something more interesting than a mere nihilistic statement. As every aspect of the movie screams—its advertising tagline, the final titles, and the opening monologue—“Time destroys everything.” People and their worst instincts, rather than any sort of fundamental vileness, are to blame for human hellishness. By ending his movie at an innocent beginning—Bellucci lying on a grassy plain reading while little kids run around—Noé suggests that once, at some point, early in our lives, we are capable of happiness and being emotionally virginal. Maturation, sex, and jealousy (both romantic and class-related) destroy all things as we grow aware of them over time. Noé uses not just time as his agent to demonstrate this, but pulls out 2001: A Space Odyssey as a parallel example, prominently displaying a poster for it on the walls of Bellucci’s apartment. There, mankind went full-circle, becoming reborn in innocence. Noé is more fatalistic about humans, denying them the comfort of an allegorical ending, but still suggests that if only things could be completely restarted, they would turn out okay.

The first half is vile and kind of boring in a typical would-be shocker way (although it succeeds in shocking more often than usual for this type of import), at least in its two virtuoso set-pieces: sodomy and death by fire extinguisher, respectively. Watching Cassel walk around insulting “Chinks,” threatening transvestites, and generally acting coked-up has an overly familiar, albeit newly brutal, feel to it. It’s the second half that’s truly remarkable, recalling the spirit of early Godard—spirited discussions about the nature of sex and love, and a remarkable extended cuddling-but-no-sex sequence between Bellucci and Cassel that surprises with both its sweetness and honesty, beating out the much-acclaimed sex scene from Late Marriage hands down. Unfortunately, it never adds up to anything with the movie’s first half: We keep in mind the inevitable consequences, but never feel their impact as they move further backward in time. Ironically, though running the film backward is necessary to the film’s philosophical point, it’s absolutely no help in leaving any sort of emotional impact on the viewer.

Unlike so many films with hellishly controversial reputations, Irreversible is not just another controversy in search of an actual movie: It’s a technically adept piece of work, philosophically considered, and generally a serious piece of work, rather than just a cynical art-house exploitation piece, and nearly essential viewing for anyone interested in seeing a truly new direction in film. The bold experiment ultimately fails, but maybe I’m just not sensitive enough to rape scenes and the like to be as affected as I ought to be. If so, I probably should’ve seen the movie when I was 12 to be properly affected—time, apparently, has destroyed my humanity, along with everything else.

—Vadim Rizov

Sarah Andrews' Review
Rating: out of 5

Watching Irreversible is very similar to being on a jolting carnival ride: Imagine moving so quickly in so many directions that you can’t tell which way is up; imagine losing all sense of direction to the point of being sick and wanting nothing more than for the ride to stop and let you off. This is the effect that Irreversible had on me, and, I’ve heard, on others who saw it. I was warned before I entered the theatre that this film is graphic and that many critics have not been able to watch thing. I lasted 20 minutes into it before I had to take a break and 40 minutes before I left the theatre for good.

The film’s premise is understandable in a general, universal sort of way (Who hasn’t wanted to get revenge on someone before?): A man avenges his wife’s rape by having the rapist murdered. The story line has some potential, but the actuality of the film and its effects quickly diverged from what I think of as being a truly good movie.

Writer and director Gaspar Noé tries his damnedest from the very beginning to let the audience know that this is not your typical movie—and he’s quite successful. The first few seconds of opening credits are normal enough (aside from all the inverted letters), until they begin—and continue—to slant toward the right side of the screen. Then the credits—yes, I’m still describing the credits—begin to flash, using not-so-subtle strobe effects that are annoying at best (and at worst are enough to make you sick). The sickening effect continues as the story begins, with camera shots that are nothing less than nauseating because the camera is constantly moving and traversing in such a seemingly impossible manner that I was left wondering just what Noé was trying to prove. If he was looking to draw some grand parallel between the flowing movement of the camera and the uncomfortable feel of the film, fine, point taken. Now find a new way to torture your audience, because that got old, and fast.

The sparse dialogue and odd camera movements make it difficult to tell exactly what’s happening unless you are paying really close attention—I wasn’t, I couldn’t—and the story is told in reverse chronological order so that the majority of the more atrocious events, of which there are several, are captured toward the beginning of the film. Supposedly there is less violence toward the end of the film/beginning of the story. But since I left during the brutal murder scene I missed the opportunity to see both the less-graphic parts, and the violent and controversial nine-minute long rape scene (which ultimately led to the brutal murder) that is considered by some critics to be scandalous because of its length and intensity.

Irreversible is as disturbing as it is intense. It attacks your sense of sight, sound—part of the film featured what can only be described as throbbing music, which served to heighten my sense of uneasiness—and well being and leaves you feeling pretty fucked up. I would not recommend this film to anyone who cannot handle very graphic images and ideas of torture and/or anyone who is plagued by motion sickness. Irreversible is not bad for what it is, but it isn’t for everyone.

Sarah Andrews


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