"For all its confrontational posturing, there are moments when the film fails to take the leap into the abyss." | Photo: Powerhouse Films

Alex and Marcus get ready for a party. Marcus goes out to get a bottle, while Alex takes a pregnancy test. It reads positive. Along with Alex's ex, Pierre, they go to the party. There, Marcus and Alex argue, and Alex leaves. In the underpass, she is raped and beaten by Le Tenia. Marcus goes off in search of revenge with Pierre in tow. They track Le Tenia down to a gay club, The Rectum. Le Tenia beats Marcus, then Pierre staves the rapist's head in with a fire extinguisher.

Argentinian-born French-based auteur Gaspar Noé's Irreversible can fairly be summarised as a rape-revenge exploitationer, with artistic pretensions.

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The violence, though heavy going, isn't anything that students of the subject won't have seen before. Yes, the nine-minute rape sequence and the head bashing are gruelling, harrowing, shocking and all the other conventional adjectives. Crucially, the one thing the rape is not is rousing/exciting. To make a pro-sexual violent film would, one suspects, be a provocation that not even Noé would countenance.

However, Irreversible is not offering those who have seen Straw Dogs, Salo, A Clockwork Orange, House On The Edge Of The Park, The New York Ripper, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, or the filmmaker's earlier Carne and Seul Contre Tous, anything they won't be able to watch.

The artistic pretensions take the form of presenting everything in reverse chronological order, similar to Christopher Nolan's Memento, but easier to put a structure to. We start 85 minutes in, play to the end, then jump to 75 minutes and play to 85, then to 65 and play to 75 and so on. The effect, when combined with Noé's vertiginous camera, is to seriously disorientate the viewer at the outset and then bring progressive clarity as the story unfolds.

Whether the device works in conveying Noé's argument that the future is predetermined is, however, debatable. But if a case can be made for the temporal structure of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond as a cinematic manifestation of symbolist writing, anything is possible.

For all its confrontational posturing, there are moments when the film fails to take the leap into the abyss. In particular, the scenes at The Rectum leading up to Marcus's showdown with Tenia screamed cop-out to me. Noé would probably argue that his decision to shoot in the style of a war cameraman, dodging fire, added to the confusion and intensity of the scene. Fair enough. But it also meant he could avoid confronting the audience - and himself? - with gay S&M activity head on. It's a moment of curious prudery, reminiscent of the faux shit eating in Pasolini's Salo.

Irreversible is a decent enough follow-up to Seul Contre Tous, but doesn't have the impact of that film for me. Partly it was the presence of recognisable star names in Monica Belucci and Vincent Cassel. The real-life couple do fine and one must applaud their boldness in consenting to appear in an apparent career suicide piece like this. But they just didn't do it for me in the same way as Seul Contre Tous's Philippe Nahon.

Irreversible is arthouse exploitation and "people who like this sort of thing will find herein the sort of thing they like."

Reviewed on: 15 Aug 2002
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Brutal story of a violent rape, told in reverse. Now out to own in special collectors edition.
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Read more Irreversible reviews:

Chris ****
Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: Gaspar Noé

Writer: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel, Philippe Nahon, Jo Prestia, Stephane Drouot

Year: 2002

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France


EIFF 2002

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