IRREVERSIBLEDON'T SHIELD YOUR EYES | Jul 9, 2003
Note: This was my very first review ever. I wrote it in about a half an hour and sent it off. I'm leaving the whole thing untouched just because it was my very first venture into film reviewing. Enjoy.
Howdy. I was lucky enough to see this film in the theatre when it played in San Jose. I actually got to see it for free as the guy who was selling tickets was on a break. My girlfriend and I just walked right in. My girlfriend and I were blown away by what we saw. We had to get a copy as soon as it was available. Now, mind you, this is not a movie you would watch with your run of the mill girlfriend. She has to be a hardened cinema junkie to make it through this film. And for all the guys who Bellucci gives a tingly feeling in their underoos, you will cry when you witness the violence bestowed on her character.
Much has been said about Irreversible. Most likely you will hear that it moved backwards like Memento. You will hear it involves a 9 minute rape scene and one of the most realistic murders seen on screen, involving a fire extinguisher repeatedly smashed into a man’s face. Yes, I will admit, Irreversible is a hard film. It is a tale of a rape, and the blind vengeance taken as a result. But at the same time, if you can make it past all the darkness in the first half of the film, you’re treated to one of the most beautiful relationships seen on screen in the past few years.
This is much more than just your average exploitive rape and revenge flick. If you want that go check out Rapeman 7. This is a story of bitter ironies. Lost love. The downward spiral of violence. How acts made in vengeance can punish the victims of the original act even further. And worst of all, the fact that sometimes, bad deeds do go unpunished.
I’ve heard many people say that Irreversible was just a rip-off of Memento because the story moved backwards. But to say that is to miss everything in this film. It’s like saying Go was a rip-off of Pulp Fiction because they both had three intersecting stories.
Irreversible opens with the credits of the film rolling backwards, and then moves into a hotel room where two men are talking about misdeeds they have done. The larger of the two was actually the main character in Noe’s other film, Seul Contre Tous (aka I Stand Alone). If you haven’t seen that you may want to check it out before watching Irreversible, as it’s sort of a treat for Noe’s fans. The camera is extremely unstable, representing the instability of the characters as their emotions take precedence over their rational judgment. The camera is so unstable that it moves out of the room, out the window, and spirals down as if blown about by a large gust of wind to the parking lot below.
You then see 2 men being escorted out of a club by a large group of police. One man is cuffed and the other is on a stretcher being carted away with a broken arm. You realize it is a gay s&m club, and something terrible has happened. The camera follows the men to the hospital/jail for a while, only to swoop back and around only to stop on the previous scene. You see Vincent Cassel’s character, extremely enraged, searching for a man called “Le Tenia.” You see Cassel and his friend barge into the gay club, looking for “Le Tenia,”, the man who has wronged his wife in the most unforgivable of ways. Cassel is filled with rage, nothing will stop him from claiming his vengeance. His friend tags along, more than a little scared by the surroundings. The club is insanely scary. Cassel’s rage is frightening, and the most disturbing low bass tone you have ever heard drones over the whole scene. Noe actually used a bass tone that riot cops use to disperse crowds in this scene, and it truly makes you feel nauseous, compounding everything you are seeing and hearing. You feel the rage, sickness, and unease of these characters, and you are scared. I want to leave it at that for those who haven’t seen this film, as to give away too much would be to ruin this splendid film.
Each scene is shot in an extremely long 5-15 minute take, linked together by invisible cuts, making the movie feel like it was shot completely in one take. The camera work is amazing. Noe believed this to be a film about emotions gone wild, and the tragedy that comes when they get out of hand. He filmed the movie with a handheld camera and never looked through the viewfinder, as that would lend a sense of the artificial to the film. Only after the catalyst to the violence that you see in the first half of the film, does the camera ever stabilize.
Which brings me to the rape sequence. It is horrible, extremely disturbing, but I beg you to try to make it through. The rape is one take, a stationary shot, and lasts 9 minutes. It is probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to watch, but if you can make it through, you will be rewarded. You may wish to keep in mind the tag line from Last House on the Left. Keep telling yourself it’s only a movie. The worst is over with this last scene. After so much darkness you will be begging for light, and that’s exactly what you are rewarded with. A look at their past, a view of how deep and true these characters’ love is, and what a wonderful friendship these characters had previously had.
There is so much love between Cassel and Bellucci that could only come from a married couple. It shows in every one of their actions. From the intimate shower scene, to Cassel’s gently lifting strands of hair out of Monica Bellucci’s eyes while they cuddle on the bed, you witness a couple that truly loves each other, cherishes each other’s company, and is both uplifting, and extremely sad. You love their interaction, you love being in these characters’ presence, but at the same time you already know how much will be lost, and exactly how badly the story ends.
Now if you’ve seen the film and liked it you may want to get the import version like I did. I got a Korean region 0 fully uncut DVD that came with a filmstrip from the movie. The film strip that came with mine was actually from the rape scene. As for the sound, picture, and subtitle quality, they are all excellent. The movie is excellent in French Dolby Digital 5.1, and the picture is superb. The subtitles are excellent, not like the Yoda-Speak subtitles found on most Hong Kong DVD’s. The only place you may run into trouble with is the special features. If you haven’t taken French you’ll run into a lot of trouble understanding what’s being said. If you know even a little French, All the better. You’re treated to a music video, an extra scene of Alex in the hospital, a short film by Gaspar Noe, a deconstruction of the special effects used infamous fire extinguisher face smash scene, and an interview with Monica “Hubba Hubba” Bellucci about her role in the film. I doubt that the disc that Lions Gate puts out will be this in depth when it comes to the special features.
Do yourself a favor. Import this film. Find yourself a copy on Ebay, as most of you near Blockbuster Video stores will never see it in its entirety. This is a challenging film. One of the most challenging I’ve seen. But at the same time is very rewarding. This review may seem vague, but I’m doing you quite the favor by not spoiling it for you. See it. You’ll thank me later.