Irreversible was programmed at last year's Cannes Film Festival as the scandal entry -- that film the festival likes to use to aggressively court controversy. After watching Gaspar Noé's movie, I see what he's against: pretty much everything, including gays, non-whites, women, France and life itself.
I'm just curious. Is he for anything?
The centrepiece is a brutal 11-minute rape scene, done in a single shot and climaxing in the victim having her face smashed repeatedly against a concrete floor. The rapist feels that his victim looks down on him because she's beautiful, and he's going to deal with that attitude by destroying her beauty.
The film runs backwards. It starts with the hero being dragged from a gay sex club where he and his friend have tracked down the rapist, goes back to their revenge, back to the search for the rapist, back to the rape and back to before the rape.
There is insane, whirling movement at the beginning. The camera rushes all over the place, never lighting on anything, just giving us glimpses of the world as hell, with the gay club -- called, unironically, the Rectum -- as its ninth circle.
The camera settles only to show us something extremely ugly, like the rapist's face being pounded into pulp with a fire extinguisher. Or there's Philippe Nahon sitting naked in an ugly room, explaining to a clothed friend that was in jail for having sex with his daughter (which in turn is the scene at the end of Gaspar Noé's I Stand Alone, in which Nahon starred).
Noé's apparent theme is that time destroys everything, with a side order of man is an animal. And his unstated mission is to shatter the bourgeois complacency of the French cinema, a project that trails back to, say, Luis Buñuel in 1930 or so, when L'Age D'Or was banned by the Paris police.
Attacks on the politeness of French culture have a very long history, as does the position of enfant terrible, which seems to be Noé's job description. After La Haine (Hate), Matthieu Kassovitz held the gig, but now he's better known in North America as the romantic lead in Amélie.
Since actors tend to be suckers for anyone with a strong line of philosophical bullshit, Noé managed to get a pair of sizable stars for this picture in the persons of Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci. (They were a real-life couple at the time of filming, and are both in Christophe Gans's Brotherhood Of The Wolf.)
So, in the name of misanthropic nihilism, Noé has been given the chance to show us, face on, the rape and brutalization of a character played by one of the most beautiful women in European cinema.
This pivotal scene marks the first time in the film that Noé finds a stable place to put his camera, and it's no accident that he positions it so that when Alex (Bellucci) tries to push up from the pavement, the audience gets a good look at the famous Bellucci décolletage.
I don't think the extreme violence in Irreversible serves a philosophical point. After the fourth time someone gets smashed in the face, any sane person in the audience can grasp the theme. And four or five minutes into the rape scene, anyone who's not aroused by the scene -- and those folks are out there -- understands the message. (See sidebar, this page.)
I think Noé is getting off on the violence in his own film the same way he got off on the philosophical spew in the voice-over in I Stand Alone. His relentless nihilism is no more a pose than it was in Céline's writings. Noé's a genuine misanthrope.
If you want to experience that kind of negativity, Irreversible is the film for you. email@example.com
IRREVERSIBLE directed and written by Gaspar Noé, produced by Christophe Rossignon, with Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Albert Dupontel and Philippe Nahon. 94 minutes. A 120 Films/Studio Canal+ production. An Alliance Atlantis release. For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 88. Rating: NN