Sometimes I feel watching Gaspar Noé films is akin to paying someone to get yourself slapped. That is certainly the case with the shocking drama “Irréversible” [Eng. Title: Irreversible]. To describe the film as provocative would indeed be an understatement. If his earlier feature “Seul Contre Tous” shook you up, “Irréversible” will hit you with a sledgehammer. M. Noé had declared himself the moral conscience of world cinema.
But contrary to some misconceptions, this film is not about violence – sexual or otherwise. So what is it about? At its heart, the film questions rationale behind the deep-seated human instinct for revenge and the desire for retribution. Because the consequences of our actions, whether intended or not, would be irreversible. Some of the most violent imagery ever put to film has actually been used to convey a deeply pacifist message. Noé’s hatred of violence is crying out for everyone to see in the very manner in which these scenes are filmed. Not only does the screenplay run in reverse to show the effects of one’s actions before they’re committed, there’s also a conscious albeit futile effort in every scene to stop certain things from happening. No matter how you see it, this is superlative scripting. There’s a whole ‘bloody’ lot to soak from the film, which makes it necessary to watch it more than once, unpleasant scenes notwithstanding.
Some telling passages of play occur during conversations in the train and later at the discotheque that not only sheds light on the three main characters – Alex, Marcus, and Pierre, but also on the precarious nature of their relationship – at least two of them shouldn’t stay friends. Marcus and Pierre have been friends for years. Alex and Marcus are a couple, but before that she was in a relationship with Pierre for four years. Pierre still loves Alex and finds it difficult to move on, Alex is aware of this but cruelly flirts with him, only to later ask him not to torture himself by harbouring feelings for her. They’re at a party organised by Pierre’s friends. After getting fed up with Marcus for making a fool of himself following drugs and alcohol, Alex leaves, alone. At a subway road crossing, she’s randomly attacked by a gay thug in one of the most horrific rape scenes captured in cinema. But this is just the beginning of an orgy of violence that ensues.
Granted, one wouldn’t normally place Monica Bellucci who plays Alex in the same acting pedestal as, say a Meryl Streep. But in terms of physicality she’s up there among the very best actresses in the industry. Every now and again, she pulls out all stops to deliver some of the most harrowing scenes, like in the all-female lynching scene from Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Malèna”. She surpasses that here to the extent that during the shoot, her battered face apparently even made her co-star, co-producer and future husband Vincent Cassel (who plays Marcus) cry on set.
Right from the titles to the end credits, there is so much to write about this gem of a film. Gaspar Noé’s sense of humour is also amply evident on several occasions – like his choice and style of typography for the credits. The film also starts interestingly with the butcher from “Seul Contre Tous” making a shocking confession from his flat. The camera then pans downstairs to show men pouring out of ‘Rectum’, the infamous gay bar where some more violent scenes are played out. Apart from scripting and directing the film, M. Noé also handles the cinematography and editing, both thoroughly disorientating. Add to this the unnerving sound mix, and you now have a dizzying unpleasant ride ahead – unpleasant acts to witness, profound truths to unravel, and our incomplete evolution as human beings to reflect on. Needless to say, Highly Recommended Viewing..!