Cinema Signal:
Degenerate Moderns: Modernity As Rationalized Sexual Misbehavior

. "Irreversible"

I've never considered myself squeamish; this film proves just where I draw the line. I've also never seen a snuff film; this one comes as close as I ever want to witness one. With "Irreversible", Argentinian born director Gaspar Noe' ("Sodomites", 1998) constructs a film that presents images of human behavior from the deep recesses of depravity and cloaks them in reverse time order, ensuring his mark on the festival circuit.

Taking a story and editing it in backward order is an interesting experiment. Once you arrive at the beginning, which is now the ending, you can allow your mind to reassimilate what you've seen. You reconstruct it, and it's a fascinating exercise. But, there are distinct disadvantages with this kind of departure from convention.

Near the start of the film we are treated to an extended uncut scene, with wild camera gyrations and insistent music to match, as Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and his friend Pierre (Albert Dupontel) search the dark corridors and labyrinthine levels at the "Rectum", an S&M men's nightclub, for a pimp with the name of Le Tenia (Jo Prestia), a handle that means tapeworm.

As he makes his way from room to room, Marcus fends off all manner of homoerotic advances and threats but finally finds his quarry (or a surrogate). He strikes the man he thinks is Le Tenia and in the ensuing struggle, having only begun to vent his anger and desire for revenge, gets knocked to the ground. As Le Tenia advances on him with the debasement of public rape in mind, Pierre comes to the rescue with a fire extinguisher which he uses to batter Le Tenia's head until it's a bloody pulp.

I'm not kidding here. The man's (or dummy's) head appears to take the blows in an endless torrent of raw violence as teeth cave in, skull gives way, face goes slack and sickeningly revised.

At this point, without the benefit of knowing who these people are or what they might have done to become engaged in such maniacal homicide, I had my first urge to flee from the theater. If you feel that way about its description, stop reading and promise yourself not to see this movie.

Each succeeding scene in the film is roughly the length of a 1,000 foot reel of 35mm film, 10 minutes. This is not a landmark technique, Sidney Lumet having put it to brilliant use in his 1957 "12 Angry Men" and it calls for a significant degree of rehearsal between the cast and the cameraman. The technique is exceedingly well executed here -- to the agony of those who will find the brutality it serves excessive.

As the film progresses to the next extended scene, we see Marcus and Pierre frantically setting about to find out who raped Marcus' girlfriend, Alex (an exceptional Monica Bellucci), threatening, demanding, throwing fits until he finally learns from a street transexual that the man he's looking for is the pimp known as Le Tenia and where he's likely to be found, which is the gay nightclub.

Just who Alex is and what her relationship to Marcus is like, and the circumstances that led to her rape and torture is the subject matter of the ensuing scenes that occurred previously in time. Little by little, we understand; little by little we begin to care.

But, there's nothing little about the graphic nature of the acts that are portrayed. The rape scene is so lurid and endless, the depiction of such sociopathic evil so grievously shameful, that you have to keep reminding yourself that these are actors performing in a movie.

Frankly, I think that the mind that chose to present this kind of material is in a twisted place, set fanatically on making his career splash through shock rather than constructively revealing the derangements that crawl through our societies. I'm not particularly glad I saw it and can only see mercy in the likelihood that it's not likely to enjoy more than a limited audience. Punks, other adolescents, sex deviants and film students are likely to find it alluring.

The sad part is in the loss of exposure to stunning realism and utterly remarkable performances. Monica Belucci comes out of it having proved a talent second to none in the devotion she displays in such demanding context. My wish is that she demonstrates this talent in more mainstream material, such as in the Italian film that brought her to our shores with a wallop in 2000's "Malena". To add to the admiration, this is largely an improvisational work. It's difficult to believe that Noe' wrote only a 3-page outline of his 12 scenes, leaving it to the actors to improvise dialogue. While this is apparent in the frantic early scenes (later in time), the later scenes are very impressive realizing its improvisational source.

As for the technique of filmmaking, one must admit that in an application less bent on shock and degeneracy, it might well deserve international attention. Which doesn't mean it's not going to get some. As said, this film is a festival darling.

Me? I'm going to go watch "The Brady Bunch" to wash these images out of mind. And, I'm going to withstand the fury of those who decide I'm a squeamish wimp.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

The Soundtrack album (Daft Punk)


Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written

I agree completely. I am not squeamish. I can appreciate the rage and almost temporary insanity one could experience, and to then brutally murder the man you believe to have raped and abused your friend or lover. I cannot, however, appreciate in any way, that HORRIFYING, nauseating, EXTREMELY disturbing, and unnecessarily long, morbidly upsetting rape scene. I have NEVER in my life, seen a rape scene as truly nightmarish as that one. This film needs to have an extreme warning attached to it, if only for the rape scene.

                                                  ~~ Kathryn
Well written
I agree with the review
Site rating: 6

This is a brutal movie and I ask myself WHY would an artist do something like this? I still don't hear an answer. I'm glad it's not in my collection, this movie is not entertainment!

                                                       ~~ Lloyd
Site rating: 7


                                                       ~~ ghostwin
Well written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 10

i love this movie

                                                       ~~ khadraoui
Well written
This review will influence me to:
Read more by this reviewer, recommend this reviewer, and to get my local newspaper to hire this reviewer.
Site rating: 8

                                                       ~~ karam m.
Very well written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
This review will influence me to recommend this reviewer
Site rating: 8

The only reason I got this movie was because of Monica B starring in it. I guess it will be so for others who watched it as well. And, I agree, I didn't feel that i watched a good movie - I had to fast forward the beginning sequences, expecting some better things but it was fast forward almost till the last section!! I don't feel nausea or any other symptom, i didn't even feel queasy - I just felt irritated - This is, as rightly said, where i too would draw a line.

                                                       ~~ Chandrasekar CP
Well written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 8

I saw this movie last night and my stomach is still raw with disgust - as a woman, I think I have permenently developed anxiety issues due to this movie - I agree with the author of this review - I will have to watch a whole series of positive movies and television simply to stop the scenes from running over and over in my mind. The one thing the movie did leave me with is the question: "how is it possible that humans can become so evil? The scenes in this film truly are hell on earth!!!

                                                       ~~ Renata
Well written
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 6

I can honestly say that I have never seen a film that left me so genuinely disgusted. I saw the rape scene which was hard to bare, the part in the club where the guy caves someones skull in with a fire extinguisher was, in my opinion, grotesquely violent simply for the sake of it and left me genuinely disturbed by what I had seen.

It was after this point that I turned the movie off and decided enough was enough. I cannot comment on the movie overall, just that I believe any movie with such uncomprimising violence should be banned as only those most depraved could possibly draw any satisfaction from such a repulsive film.

I agree with the reviewer in that the only reason this movie could have been made is for shock value and also the types that he says this movie would appeal to.

                                                       ~~ Kevin Spilsbury

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