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IRREVERSIBLE

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! 

The Package 
     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 Story 
     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 everything.”
     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 course).
     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 calamitous events. 

The Direction 
     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 CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST’S 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. 


Vital Statistics 

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
 


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