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TOP 100 MOVIES in 2002!
The story of a woman’s brutal rape and her lover’s vengeful quest to kill the perpetrator, told in reverse-chronological order.
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There comes a film every once and awhile that blurs the line between freedom of artistic expression, and pointless sadism. This is one of those films. No fewer than two hundred people walked out of the screening at Cannes Film Festival -- some being critics -- but it still managed to be nominated for the festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or award.
Welcome to our third of four Most Controversial Films of the Last Decade: IRRÉVERSIBLE.
In some ways, ‘Irréversible’ is a classic revenge flick: We see happy couple Marcus and Alex (Cassel and Bellucci) spending time together, discussing the possibility they may be pregnant. The couple join their friend Pierre (Dupontel), to whom Alex used to be married, and go to a party. Alex gets mad at Marcus for drinking too much, so she leaves and heads home alone. While in a pedestrian underpass she passes a pimp, who proceeds to sodomize and beat her under knifepoint. When Marcus and Pierre find out what happened, they run all over Paris in a rage, interrogating people to find out who the perpetrator is. One points them in the direction of an S&M gay club where the pair murder who they think is the rapist, after which they are arrested.
Only… the story is told backwards. So the first thing we see is the brutal, graphic murder (bludgeoning by fire extinguisher, no less) of a man by two other men, and we don’t know why. The last thing we see (i.e. the beginning of the story) is a peaceful shot of the beautiful Bellucci reading a book amongst laughing children in the park -- a totally non-threatening, even boring, start to any movie. ‘Irréversible’ isn’t the first film to use this method -- most notably Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’ also tells the story of a murder in reverse -- but it certainly is more shocking in both form and content.
Director Noé, who also wrote, co-produced, edited and shot the film, is known as a bit of a shock master; his 1998 film ‘I Stand Alone’ is about a butcher who has sex with his mentally-handicapped daughter. Reversing the order of the scenes, says Roger Ebert, “makes Irréversible a film that structurally argues against rape and violence, while ordinary chronology would lead us down a seductive narrative path toward a shocking, exploitative payoff. By placing the ugliness at the beginning, Gaspar Noé forces us to think seriously about the sexual violence involved.” The filmmaker also uses other manipulations of form to tell the story differently. He shoots in a spinning, undulating way that both obscures the details of what’s happening, and creates a feeling of unease and disorganization. Also, for the first thirty minutes of the film a nearly inaudible background noise of 28Hz plays, a similar sound to that of an earthquake. Apparently this causes feelings of vertigo and sickness in those initial, violent scenes (as if you weren’t feeling that way already). Lastly, a throbbing ambulance-type soundtrack element before and during the murder furthers our discomfort.
The reason behind the controversy surrounding ‘Irréversible’ is a no-brainer, and I’m sure came as no surprise to Noé or his cast . To most rational people, this film will be unwatchable due to one or all of the following reasons: the graphic murder, the vicious rape or, less likely, the nauseating shooting style. The rape -- a nine minute, uncut violation -- is what offended most women at Cannes, and definitely toes the line between what’s necessary to tell the story and what’s gratuitous and outright demeaning. Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post believes there is a deeper meaning to the violence. He claims the resemblance in both facial features and dialogue between the rapist (Jo Prestia) and Marcus symbolizes a latent, pervasive anger towards the post-feminist woman, and that Marcus represents the testosterone-driven, traditional male and Alex’s ex, Pierre, represents the modern, thinking man. It’s true that at the party Marcus not only ignores Alex and kisses other women openly, but allows Alex to go home alone at night, making her vulnerable to her cruel fate. And in the tender scene between the two lovers Marcus repeatedly does pseudo-violent things to annoy Alex (i.e. pinning her hands above her head), despite her passive requests for him to stop. Contrarily, Pierre is constantly badgering Marcus to pay more attention to Alex, and it is in fact he, not Marcus, that kills the rapist in the end.
Is Noé commenting on the fragile connection between memory and time, women and men? Or is ‘Irréversible’ simply, as The New York Post claimed, “a movie with not a whole lot on its mind except rank exploitation?” Either way, viewers beware: those without a strong stomach should stay away… or at least watch ‘Irreversible’ in reverse and stop at minute 39.