Director: Gaspar Noe
Writer: Gaspar Noe
USA Gross: $753 501
"time destroys everything" - that's the tag line to the french film Irreversible. this film like one i talked about in a previous post, Run Lola Run, deals with the ideas of time and chance and cause and effect but in a very different way.
Irreversible is a film about one day in the life of a couple before and after the women is raped. the stunning monica bellucci and her real life husband vincent cassel portray the couple in the film. the day begins like any other until that evening when bellucci is brutally raped by a stranger in a paris underpass. following the event cassel goes on an angry rage across the city in search of the man who did it so he can exact a brutal revenge.
this movie is not for everybody. that doesn't deny or diminish the incredible film that it is, but it does acknowledge that the subject matter and graphic nature of the film just mean that some people wont be able to handle it. i saw it in the theater back in 2002 and the female half of the couple sitting next to me got up and left about half way through the film. i have also heard stories about many people doing the same thing at the cannes film festival where it premiered - the cannes reaction is pretty reflective of the publics reaction in general. this movie was met with a lot of praise and just as much criticism upon its release. i, as you can guess from the fact that i am writing about it here, fall on the side of the praisers.
time isn't just an ethereal idea in this film, in fact it is literally turned on its head. by that i mean the movie actually plays out in reverse. the story begins at the end of the day and works backwards through the hunt for revenge, to the rape, to the time before the rape and eventually to that morning. however, not only does it play out in reverse, but the movie is also one continuous shot - or to be more precise, it is put together as one continuous shot. of course there are cuts (there have to have been) but we, the audience, don't see any of them. to us the film is one non-edited camera movement going backwards from the end to the beginning of the chronological story. not only that, but the flow of the camera changes as the film progresses from the initial frantic, shaking and almost sea sick creating movement of the first moments to the slow and relaxed feel of the films end (or beginning of the day). being a guy very interested in the visual (have done some cinematography and videography myself) this was incredibly interesting and visceral. all this reversal of time and camera work could have easily however just been a gimmick had the film itself not been so strong.
one of the complaints i heard about the film was the claim that the violence and graphic nature of the movie were gratuitous and done more for some kind of shock value rather then actual necessity in telling the story. i do not agree.
for all the brilliant bells and whistles of the films production and creative cinematography (director noe was also the editor and co-cinematographer on the project) whether the film and the story work comes down to the rape. by that i mean the anger and violence that we see in the first half of the film (the end of the story) has to be justified by what happens to bellucci's character in the underpass. also, the calmness and innocent happiness of the second half of the film (the beginning of the story) needs to provide a sense of foreboding with the image of the rape we have already seen in our mind.
because of that, argentinian born director, gaspar noe makes us watch it. while up to the point of the rape the camera has been moving rather quickly (although it has calmed down compared to the opening minutes) for the scene in the underpass it doesn't move at all. in fact as she is attacked, the camera comes around and stops so that we are facing bellucci as she is raped. the camera doesn't move or cut or do anything at all. it just sits there and makes us watch it and see her face looking in our direction. while i have seen other rapes in movies before, this one was by far the hardest to watch and, as such, the most "effective". it not only forces the audience to deal with what is going on but it works as the necessary anchor between the first and second halves of the film (the end and beginning of the story respectively).
like i said, the film is not for everybody. you should know what you are getting into. however, i highly recommend this film and believe that with so much gratuitous and non-relevant sex and violence in movies, Irreversible is one film that confronts us with it in a hard but appropriate way - which may be why so many people had such strong reactions to it, because they couldn't just laugh it off or act like it didn't matter. Irreversible is a movie that whether you like it or not will definitely cause a reaction. this is a film that caused a big stir at cannes and even won a few awards at lesser film festivals, but since then, especially here in north america, it has been mostly forgotten - however, definitely not by those who have seen it.