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IRREVERSIBLE (2002) (***1/2)

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This film might be one of the most profound viewing experiences I will ever have. My impression of cinema, especially violence on film, has been turned upside-down. To most people (like my wife), this film will be unwatchable. Audience members at the Cannes Film Festival threw things at the screen. Many critics walked out of the press screenings for the film. I haven't thought about a film so much since I saw MULHOLLAND DRIVE. Part of the film's profound moments are its own undoing though. Like KIDS, once the shock wears off, IRREVERSIBLE looks kind of thin. By now you're probably wondering what is so shocking about this film.

First thing to note is that the film runs backwards like MEMENTO. It starts with two men talking about how time destroys all and then two other men Marcus (Vincent Cassel, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel, ACTORS) get arrested at the gay bar next door. With the camera moving around frantically, we then see Marcus and Pierre frantically looking for a man named the Tenia (Jo Prestia, FEMME FATALE). This search leads up to a brutal beating where a man's head is crushed with a fire extinguisher without the camera ever looking away. A few more scenes that precede the brutal beating have Marcus and Pierre search for the Tenia. Then comes the scene that is the crux of people's hatred for this film. We see Alex (Monica Bellucci, THE MATRIX RELOADED) enter an underground walkway were she is raped and beaten by the real Tenia, who isn't the man who was beaten. This scene is nine minutes long. I read that in reviews before watching the film and it really didn't stick in my mind. Just sit back and think about rape for nine minutes. It's pretty unbearable, huh? Just think what it's like watching it.

After this we see Alex, Marcus and Pierre at a party where Marcus gets drunk, spurring Alex to leave. We then see Alex, Marcus and Pierre talking about orgasms. The final scene is a sweet scene of Marcus and Alex together right after sex as they play with each other and we find out Alex's special secret.

The film is extremely nihilistic. Its look at the existence of humans is very bleak. The romance at the end is tainted by the extreme violence that we know is coming. The film is mainly style. The camera movement reflects the chaos of the main characters. Marcus and Pierre are more archetypes of the alpha male and the impotent intellectual. Alex is not very developed at all. We care about her solely because she is a beautiful woman and she gets hurt. The characters are puppets of director Gasper Noe.

Watching the film, you know he is a master filmmaker. He knows how to push the envelope without being exploitative. He understands the cinematic language perfectly. He knows exactly how to film each scene to gain the most powerful effect. The film destroys all of Hollywood's conventions of the happy ending and what violence really is. I will never look at violence the same way again. I probably won't have a more visceral and thought provoking movie experience the rest of the year.

However, I'm so torn about what to rate this film. At first I was going to give it 2 1/2 stars because I will not recommend anyone to watch this film. If my review piques your interest you enter at your own risk. I stopped the film during the rape scene because it was too disturbing, but later I watched the more happy ending scenes. I'm glad I did that because it eased my mind. Though it's sad to see Alex before the tragedy, the beauty of the sex scene in its unblinking natural way was like a beautiful eulogy to her. This film will forever change the way I look at films and I will never forget it. That's the sign of a masterpiece.

However, I can't give it four stars because I still think the film is a short stretched to 90 some minutes. I also wish that after the rape we had seen the characters for more than just 20 minutes more. I think the fact that the violence is 2/3s of the film says a lot about Noe himself. Also I don't know how this film will hold up to multiple viewings. I don't ever want to watch the rape scene again. But if the shock wears off does the film loose some of its quality? After multiple viewings would one get desensitized to even this extreme violence? I think the film is a condemnation of violence, because it shows how futile it is. But by showing such cruelty combined with the watered down shock of multiple viewings, will the viewer end up loosing the repulsion to violence that the film tries to hit us with? I will think about these issues forever. Despite, the struggle I have with the film's final success or failure may never be determined. But I cannot deny that it is one of the most thought-provoking experiences of my life.

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Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
Creator of Rick's Flicks Picks