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
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
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
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
~~ Jules Brenner