Irreversible review

:. Director: Dirname
:. Starring: Actors
:. Running Time: 1:37
:. Year: 2002
:. Country: France


From the Editor: Long awaited, dreaded, Gaspar Noé's second full-length film cannot leave you indifferent. Ultimate artistic incarnation or gratuitous provocation? Our editorial staff is equally divided. Though the film isn't flawless, it is nonetheless one of the most important pictures in years. Criticism not being irreversible, Plume Noire offers two critiques, one for and the other against. You be the judge.

[ FOR       [ AGAINST ]

With Irreversible, Gaspar Noé imposes his reputation as an agitator, gained with only a few works. He also feeds the theory that the quality of a work of cinema holds more by its mis en scène than by the inventiveness of the script. In fact, the script of his second opus is briefly summarized: they are young, beautiful and rich and they love each other; she is expecting a child but has not yet told him; they go to a party and fight over nothing; she leaves alone and is raped by a thug; he takes revenge. Period. One could decry such a scrawny scenario whose details only manage to fatten up the feature (was it necessary to know that Alex is pregnant in order to legitimize Marcus's revenge?). However, the opening credits of Irreversible announce what's to come. Where he literally took the audience hostage in I Stand Alone, this time Noé rubs the audience the wrong way. From the foreground the director unrolls a relentless machine: his mis en scene with a disconcerting narrative structure.

In a cell, two prisoners converse: one (the butcher of I Stand Alone) recounts why he finished behind bars. Suddenly sirens howl outside. The camera then takes off, gliding above flashing lights focused on trouble at the entryway of a night club reserved for gays: the Rectum. For more than fifteen minutes, the first part of the film goes for the throat, involving the audience in a true descent into Hell. Feelings of relentless claustrophobia. Onscreen, the camera follows curves and imperceptible trajectories, is knocked against the walls, captures an embrace, seizes suffocated moans, is dazzled by red bulbs, is lost in the meanders of quasi-total darkness.

Because Noé wanted the sound to be as troubling as the image, the bass saturates the sound space and contributes to the stagnation of the whole. In this nauseating pulp, Marcus and Pierre are looking for a guy nicknamed the Tapeworm. One barely distinguishes the content of the verbal exchanges, but the urgency of this search is essential. Marcus's violence gains force (he has decided to punish the famous Tapeworm). The scene that follows the moment when the two cohorts find Tapeworm is at the extreme of the unbearable.

Irreversible is not reduced to a plea for self-defense and the right to revenge. Marcus (Vincent Cassel) is not a dispenser of justice in the city, just a man obeying his primary instincts, deaf to any reflection. Just like Seul contre tous, Noé shows how easily man swings towards animal regression. How he can totally lose his share of humanity, pushed by logic that only he assumes. If uneasiness settles in, undoubtedly it's because these images that attack us send us to our own shadows lurking behind our good manners. Undoubtedly because the violence shown here without concession reminds us that one cannot be accustomed to it. Irreversible does not advocate brutality, but asserts that we are all potentially Marcus. Moreover, he who indulges in bludgeoning the supposed attacker (the true culprit escapes punishment. In their madness, Pierre and Marcus take it out on someone else) is the one who personifies reason during the entire film: Pierre (the fabulous Albert Dupontel). The rape scene, the heart of the polemic preceding the film's release, almost passes as a moment of relaxation after the interminable seconds during which Pierre beats the Tapeworm's friend into a pulp with the blows of fire extinguisher.

Technical prowess: Irréversible is a succession of sequences in reverse chronology. There's an abundance of shots that have been digitally enhanced in post-production to conceal the invisible link scenes. This narrative structure that places the acme of the violence at the beginning of film, to end on an idyllic note on the edge of caricature, does not let you breathe. Despite the last scene of a happy couple, the images of horror of the first scenes remain in memory. The tragic dénoument lives in the peaceful moments exchanged by Pierre, Alex and Marcus. Whereas the movements of camera are calm, and the light is clear, uneasiness remains. Because the audience knows, because they saw the Damoclean sword fall.

Noé did not invent the recipe for suspense, but he knows how to measure the ingredients. Despite the poverty of the improvised dialogues, which lack credibility and authenticity, and a script reduced as a most simple apparatus, and despite a deliberately provocative subject, Irréversible must go beyond the scandal that somewhat wrongly surrounds its selection at Cannes. Freed from controversy, perhaps we will retain the essential: an inventive and controlled setting and an essential message: hell is others but above all it is ourselves.

  Moland Fengkov

[ FOR ]         [ AGAINST ]

A man avenges his raped girlfriend, embroiling himself in an irremediable process of violence...

The scenario is lean and by curious effect of a reversed mirror, the image is dense and saturated. Noé, as a seasoned formalist, excessively bloats his narrative, not managing to mask the gaps of an inconsistent story. Without true in depth script work, the characters do not exist. Moreover, the dialogues are almost inaudible, which proves well that what's important to the director: the scenes of violence, filmed with unhealthy jubilation and great complacence. The slaughter of I Stand Alone managed to upset and disturb, precisely because Noé explored the psychology of this immoral character, revealing the terrible logic that governed the reprehensible acts he was guilty of. This film could have its literary equivalent with Albert Camus' Caligula who rationalized the emperor's madness and proved his extreme logic.

This precedent opus already was not completely successful, because Noé does not allow the audience to make their own decision vis-à-vis the film. He must control all. What does Noé have to fear by taking away all of the audience's freedom? That the audience not discover the indigence of his subject matter and the all too visible wheels of coarse manipulation? That's what happens with Irreversible. After the first sequence that stuns the middle class, the film deflates like a balloon. One doesn't believe the happy scenes of radiant Bellucci/Cassel couple. At the limit of insipidness and the ridicule ("Consider that the victim was also pregnant on top of everything else!"), these awkwardly improvised scenes considerably do a disservice to the film. It is through them that Noé legitimates the murder at the nightclub, under the guise of revenge and because "the desire for violence is a natural impulse; because the majority of the crimes remain unpunished" (taken from the press kit). Contrary to what he could say, the director delivers apologetic self-defense, in the great tradition of Charles Bronson and company. His ideas don't translate well onscreen. And one knows to what point Noé engraves this setting in images! There is thus no possible ambiguity regarding his intentions. Consequently, one knows what Noé is afraid of his ideas.

Only Albert Dupontel plays the acting game well. He's also the most interesting character of film: a parapet at the beginning of film, he is the one who sinks into fatal madness. Of course, this aspect is hardly excavated by Noé, only worried by the image processing. However this track would have deserved to be filled out. It could truly disturb, more than the scene of rape or murder.

Irreversible is not a scandalous film because it lacks contents. Admittedly the opening scene in the gay nightclub resembles Dante's 7th circle of Hell populated by sodomites. But to cause scandal, it's a question of having a discourse. Noé had Pasolini's Salò in mind. It is a happy counter reference because the sulfurous and unequaled Italian director's film was tended to the extreme, not only by its scenes of violence, but also by the denunciation of Fascism and exaction made on its behalf. Noé's film approaches none of the experience of limits he hoped for. A vague nausea, an anguish quickly overcome to conclude that "that was just that".

All things considered, the visual bragging of this director does not even deserve all the buzz and scandal. Watch and walk on.

  Sandrine Marques

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