(Premiered at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, in Competition for the Palme D’or)
Written, shot, edited, and directed by Gaspar Noe, Irreversible tells the story of a man and his best friend seeking revenge against the man who raped his girlfriend. Told in reverse chronology, it is considered to be one of the most controversial films ever made as it features explicit sexual and violent content. Starring Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Albert Dupontel, and Jo Prestia. Irreversible is a shocking yet captivating film from Gaspar Noe.
It’s a night of celebration as a couple named Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Alex (Monica Bellucci) are to meet with their friend Pierre (Albert Dupontel) for a party. Things go well at the party as Pierre likes to watch Alex dance while Marcus is acting very wild. Alex leaves the party to go home as she walks to an underpass as she encounters a man (Jo Prestia) beating a woman (Jara-Millo) as he turns his attention towards Alex. Alex is raped and beaten as Marcus and Pierre later find her as Marcus seeks revenge.
The film’s plot is about a couple and a friend going out to a party, the lady leaves only to be beaten and rape by a man as her boyfriend seeks revenge. In a traditional narrative, that makes the story not very engaging as there is an idea of what is going to happen. When it’s told in reverse chronology, that’s when that premise becomes not just very interesting but also tragic. Yet, the film doesn’t start out with this main storyline as it opens with a man from Gaspar Noe’s previous film I Stand Alone known as the butcher (Philippe Nahon) talking with another man about his own crimes as well as a philosophical discussion about time.
This would lead to scenes where the aftermath of all of the revenge happens as it leads to transitions of scenes that follow Marcus’ yearning for revenge to the brutal rape/beating of Alex, and the party they were just in. Yet, the film’s penultimate scene is Marcus and Alex getting ready that includes something that makes Alex’s incident more heartbreaking. Noe’s script is filled with lots of dialogue that recalls Alex and Marcus’ relationship along with warnings and such that would play up to everything that happens as if there’s a sense of foreboding.
Yet, the script really serves as a guide to Noe’s direction as he and co-cinematographer Benoit Debie create something that is dizzying and hypnotic. Shot in 16mm with colorful lights throughout the entirety of the film, Noe creates a film where the camera is always moving as if he’s shooting a lot of it in one take. Yet, the transitions between the many scenes are shot on walls or ceilings where there’s a lot of invisible cutting throughout the film. Some of it through digital imagery with some visual effects to make it seem like the entire film is shot in one take. The camera angles and long tracking and crane shots make the film much more surreal and entrancing in its imagery.
Then there’s the film’s rape scene which is shot in a single take with no edits that is truly the most confrontational and shocking moment on the film. Through that moment when the rape is happening, the camera remains still while during that entire sequence as it rarely moves. It’s Noe being confrontational where the aftermath of that rape is even more disturbing as the beating as the combination of sound and performance makes it feel so real. The overall presentation of the film itself in its dizzying yet chilling presentation with colorful photography and a non-linear storyline that is told in reverse chronology is truly a great piece of art.
Production designer Alain Juteau does an excellent job with the look of Marcus and Alex‘s apartment along with the party they‘re at and the infamous tunnel passageway for the brutal rape scene. Costume designer Laure Culkovic does a great job with the look of Alex‘s party dress along with the casual clothes that the men wear. Visual effects supervisor Rodolphe Chabrier does a very good job with the minimal visual effects used in the film such as the swirling transitions between scenes and digital imaging to make the film look as if it‘s shot on one entire take.
Sound designers Jean-Luc Audy, Marc Boucrot, and Cyril Holtz do a fantastic job with the sound from the atmosphere of the parties and cities to the intimate but horrifying sound of the rape scene that include mixes to create something very disturbing. The film’s score by Daft Punk’s Thomas Banglater is brilliant for its hypnotic presentation along with mood pieces that play up the intensity of what is happening. Banglater’s score is a highlight of the film where at one moment, it can be cool and soothing but other times very dark. The soundtrack also includes a couple of classical pieces by Gustav Mahler and Ludwig Van Beethoven and a couple of pop pieces by Etienne Daho and Andre Bezu.
The casting by Jacques Grant is superb as it features appearances from Philippe Nahon as a man from Noe’s previous film I Stand Alone along with Mourad Khimaand and Hellal as a couple of men who offer to help Marcus in his revenge, and Jara-Millo as a hooker that is being harassed in the tunnel. Jo Prestia is very good as the man who rapes Alex in the way he makes himself brutal and someone that audiences want to see get beaten up. Albert Dupontel is excellent as Pierre, the friend who also serves as the conscious in the film of sorts as he tries to make Marcus be reasonable while being the great friend to Alex.
Vincent Cassell is great as Marcus, a man who is fun and excited while being immature only to become vengeful. It’s mesmerizing role from Cassell who plays up a man who had been manipulated and troubled by what happened to his girlfriend while also providing that he might be at fault for what happened. Monica Bellucci is amazing as Alex, a sensual woman who is very fun and exciting only to become a victim of a brutal beating and rape. Bellucci, who is truly one of the most beautiful women out there, brings something that we all know but the idea of her being in a situation like that is horrifying. Yet, there is something fearless in that performance as it’s one of her finest work to date.
The 2003 Region 1 DVD from Lions Gate Entertainment presents the film in 16x9 widescreen for its 2:35:1 aspect ratio with French 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound with English and Spanish subtitles. Among the special features on the DVD include the film’s theatrical trailer, three minutes worth of teaser trailers from France that include six 30-second clips and one one-minute clip along with a twenty-five second trailer clip for the film’s soundtrack. Other trailers from Lions Gate include James Foley’s Confidence, Mondays in the Sun starring Javier Bardem, and Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen.
Two deleted scenes appear in the DVD that includes a four-and-a-half minute scene of the camera moving around the dark tunnel to the frenetic music of Thomas Banglater that’s called “Stress”. The second called “Outrage” which is a four-minute, twenty second scene of a camera moving around during the apartment party scene as it swirls around to the drone-pulsating film score.
The last big special feature is a making of the film’s special effects. The seven-minute featurette has visual effects supervisor Rodolphe Chabrier discuss how many of the transitions were made including a couple of key violent scenes where they had to do various takes to match the same shots. Some of which featured props that were later added digitally while they also used rotoscoping for one of the film’s violent moments as the visual effects took a lot of work with the small budget that was given. While it’s an excellent DVD, it’s one that needed more in what is expected with a lot of films in recent years as far as DVD releases are concerned.
Irreversible is a provocative yet disturbing film from Gaspar Noe featuring eerie performances from Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, and Albert Dupontel. Mainstream audiences who are used to conventional narrative and more traditional ideas of sex and violence should not see this film as it is very challenging and confrontational. Audiences interested in the work of Gaspar Noe as well as the New French Extremity movement will see this as essential viewing. It is a disgusting film yet one that challenges its audience about the way human nature is pushed in shocking events. Irreversible is a film that represents all of ideas of what cinema is and should be as far as challenging ideas is concerned.
Gaspar Noe Films: Carne - I Stand Alone - Enter the Void - Love (2015 film) - Climax (2018 film) - (Lux Aeterna) - Vortex (2021 film) - The Auteurs #48: Gaspar Noe
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