An extraordinary piece of
“shock art.” It seems curiously appropriate that, in the midst of all the
rabidly anti-French sentiment saturating the US these days, this is the
French movie we get. Masquerading as an art film, it’s actually grindhouse
fodder in the classic mold: raw, rough, viscerally thrilling, unflinchingly
grotesque and not for wimps!
IRREVERSIBLE is the year’s most controversial film by far. It caused quite
a stir at the ’02 Cannes Film Festival, where outraged viewers reportedly walked
out, fainted, threw up and abused festival staffers. Many French critics even
called for a nationwide boycott of the film.
If you’re familiar with the work of IRREVERSIBLE’S creator Gaspar Noe, the
notoriety shouldn’t come as a surprise. His previous feature, 1998’s I STAND
ALONE (SEUL CONTRE TOUS), was nearly as controversial. It gave us a brutal,
ugly peek into the deranged psyche of a racist, misanthropic butcher who beats
up a pregnant woman, curses everyone around him and eventually finds redemption
by molesting his teenaged daughter.
What does come as a surprise is the fact that the stars of IRREVERSIBLE are
Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci, French cinema’s couple of the moment (though
since broken up). Bellucci in particular risked a lot by appearing in this
film, as her Hollywood star is on the rise (in the MATRIX sequels and the Bruce
Willis potboiler TEARS OF THE SUN, among others).
The film begins with the central character from the aforementioned I STAND
ALONE lounging naked in an apartment with another man; he laments deflowering
his daughter in the earlier film and voices IRREVERSIBLE’S theme: “Time destroys
In a nearby gay club named, appropriately enough, The Rectum, two
desperate men (Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel) enter in search of a man. As
the tension increases to a nearly unbearable degree, they manage to track down
their prey; one of the men starts a fight, which his seemingly mild-mannered
buddy breaks up by bashing the other’s head in with a fire extinguisher.
Suddenly we’re back to another time, with the two men searching for the
club. The film, it turns out, is being played backwards a la MEMENTO.
We see the men accost a prostitute who turns out to be a transvestite (which
“she” reveals by lifting her skirt to reveal what’s dangling beneath) and spray
mace in an Asian cab driver’s eyes (screaming racial epithets the whole time, of
After about half an hour of this, we reach the galvanizing event: a vile
rape scene that lasts a full NINE MINUTES! The victim, we learn, is Cassel’s
girlfriend (played by Monica Bellucci), and once the seemingly never-ending rape
is over the film calms down somewhat as Cassel, Bellucci and Dupontel (the
latter’s former boyfriend) joke around in the hours preceding the night’s
Most critics have compared IRREVERSIBLE to STRAW DOGS, which suggests to me
that they’ve missed the point. I find it far closer to down ‘n dirty exploiters
like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (the latter an admitted
influence) than the aforementioned Peckinpah film. Its values and worldview are
those of an exploitation flick through and through (let’s face it: the motto
“Time Destroys Everything” is about as profound as
ludicrous “Who are the real cannibals?” parting line); IRREVERSIBLE plays rough
and revels in offending any way it possibly can. The opening head bashing,
shown entirely on-camera, could have been lifted from a Lucio Fulci film, while
the hellaciously drawn-out, apocalyptic rape scene plays an awful lot like I
SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE’s horrific mid-film gang-bang.
Having said that, Noe does nonetheless offer quite a few elements you won’t
find in most grindhouse flicks. The visuals, for one: as he proved in I STAND
ALONE, Noe’s skills in this area (he serves as camera operator and
cinematographer in addition to writer/director) are beyond compare. From the
swirling, disorienting camera movements of the opening scenes (about the closest
cinema has ever come to capturing a bad trip) to the final ecstatic swirl
through an idyllic park setting, the film is a visual mind-blower.
Still, IRREVERSIBLE’S most receptive audience is almost certainly the
hard-core horror crowd. In other words, if you don’t like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW
MASSACRE than you probably won’t like IRREVERSIBLE.
Le Studio Canal/Lion’s Gate Films
Director/Screenwriter/Editor: Gaspar Noe
Producers: Christophe Rossignon, Richard Grandpierre
Cinematography: Gaspar Noe, Benoit Debie
Cast: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel, Philippe Nahon, Jo
Prestia, Stephane Drouot, Jean-Louis Costes, Mourad Khima