IRREVERSIBLE (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

(French with English subtitles)

Directed by: Gaspar Noe

Written by: Gaspar Noe

Starring: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel & Jo Prestia

Often listed as one of the biggest examples of the New French Extremity movement, IRREVERSIBLE is an amazing feat of filmmaking. Originally pitched by Gaspar Noe as a tragedy done MEMENTO style, the film tells its deeply depressing story through reverse-chronological order. This means that we start the film with the end credits and end the film with an opening shot. It’s an artsy experiment that constantly keeps the viewer engaged, even when the story’s slower-paced beginning arrives at the tail-end of this emotionally draining experience.

Loving couple Alex (Monica Bellucci) and Marcus (Vincent Cassel), along with their best friend Pierre (Albert Dupontel) go to a drug-filled, alcohol-fueled party. However, the night spirals out of control after bad decisions are made and a tragic chain of events sets off that will forever shape the course of these people’s lives in a matter of hours. Think of this artsy rape-revenge flick as a rewound story of revenge-rape. We see the ultimate outcome first, then watch the events initially spiraling out of control, and then go back to the initial build-up.

IRREVERSIBLE’s reverse-chronological narrative isn’t just a fascinating experiment from a cinephile’s perspective, but it also serves as a tool to keep the viewer constantly engaged in the narrative. We want to see how things wound up where they did and it’s a tense journey, even after we know the worst scenes have passed. The final 30 minutes of this movie (a.k.a. the first 30 minutes of the story) contain lots of foreshadowing and manage to make the tragic events even more tragic through small details. There’s one horrifying revelation that comes midway through (even though we already know what’s coming) that had me floored. It’s as if Gaspar Noe thought of every possible way that he could make this film as depressing as possible and then wrote them all into a single script. Still, the backwards-foreshadowing never seems over-the-top and further gut-punches the viewer’s already damaged emotional state.

IRREVERSIBLE’s cinematography is purposely erratic and wild. It’s like they gave the cameraman a cocktail of drugs and then told him to go crazy while filming. Characters have conversations as the lens zooms in on their faces and various body parts, and scans the background. Remarkably, this doesn’t feel distracting or nearly as pretentious as it sounds. Instead, this technique helps cement the viewer into the movie and blends right into the unconventional backwards narrative. The music score seems natural to the various environments (fading in and out of a club, playing in another room as a couple tease each other in bed), while the classical score at the end of the movie (beginning of the story) hits the viewer like a ton of bricks.

The performances come off as entirely natural and the dialogue almost seems ad-libbed. Monica Bellucci’s Alex is innocent and caring, making her fate even more difficult to watch (even though we’ve already seen it happen before we truly meet her). Vincent Cassel has a remarkable screen presence in nearly every role he’s taken, but his stint as Marcus just might be one of his all-time best performances. Albert Dupontel plays supporting character Pierre, but his story arc winds up as one of the most fascinating bits of the film. Dialogue from the beginning of the story (given during the final third) highlights just how much he evolves as a character over the course of the night.

If you haven’t already guessed, IRREVERSIBLE is a tough film to watch. One of the early sequences contains a graphic piece of violence that is highly disturbing. The detailed gore effect mixed with a faint lighting of a club and the wild camera work is downright cringe-inducing. The build-up to that moment is tense too as we see lots of sexually explicit shots and get the sense that some bad stuff is about to go down. This film is also notorious for a grueling 10-minute-long rape sequence. Even though Monica Bellucci is breathtakingly beautiful, director Gaspar Noe successfully makes this scene absolutely horrifying and it won’t seem the least bit erotic to any sensible human being (unless you’re a sicko or a possible psychopath). This haunting scene lingers long after its ended (even though nothing truly terrible happens in the final third of this film).

IRREVERSIBLE is a fascinating experiment in filmmaking and storytelling. If a fan were to edit this film in chronological order, I feel it would still make a deep impact. The reverse-chronological order adds to its depth and gets the viewer thinking about this rape-revenge tale in new ways (revenge-rape). The acting feels completely natural and the frenetic camera work adds to this film’s sheer artistic power, never once feeling pretentious or distracting. This film is amazing, but it’s not one that I’m likely to stick on much in my lifetime. IRREVERSIBLE is a work of art that repeatedly pummels the viewer’s emotions, sometimes in ways they least expect. To put it simply, IRREVERSIBLE is a stunning masterpiece of transgressive cinema!

Grade: A+

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