(director/writer/editor/cinematographer: Gaspar Noé; cinematographer: Benoît Debie; music: Thomas Bangalter; cast: Monica Bellucci (Alex), Vincent Cassel (Marcus), Albert Dupontel (Pierre), Jo Prestia (Le Tenia), Philippe Nahon (Philippe); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Richard Grandpierre/Christophe Rossignon; Lions Gate Films; 2002/France, in French with English subtitles)

“All style and shock.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Irreversible is all style and shock; unfortunately it has no substance to cover its ass. Its heaviest message is that “time destroys all things.” This is said by the jailbird Philippe (Nahon, he starred in I Stand Alone as the butcher who beat his pregnant girlfriend and updates that film here by admitting that he had sex with his daughter) as he chats with his cellmate, who reassures him that there are “no bad deeds, just deeds.” Gaspar Noé’s attempt at showing the violence and decadence of urban Paris, is unable to get beyond its gimmicky style of filmmaking to show an ugly 10 minute brutal rape and beating scene in its entirety. Mr. Noé never moved the film in the direction of showing why this violence was so necessary to be filmed in such detail. He seems to lack the good judgment to know when to pull back from his bad-boy cinema image and stop with all the nastiness to say something relevant. In this film, unlike his 1998 “I Stand Alone,” he was unable to make the hellish world he envisions ring with any kind of resonance except for disgust. The result is a work that is as immature as it is unpleasant and pointless.

The film begins backwards (like the pretentious and unfeeling Memento) and covers all its scenes in long takes. The story starts to gain life from an evening of partying and follows with much violence for live-in lovers Alex and Marcus (Monica Bellucci and real-life husband Vincent Cassel). But the catch is that it begins at the end as the final credits roll by and then with the enraged loose cannon Marcus and his intellectual friend Pierre (Dupontel), leaving a gay club called the Rectum. The camera catches the dark scenes of the men going from room to room in the club in their search for a rapist and it catches the action in a swirling vortex motion as if it were filming Dante’s Inferno. Marcus has entered this gay S&M club to get his revenge on a man called Le Tenia, who raped and beat his girlfriend earlier in the evening. Outside the Rectum the only lights that shine are from the police cars and an ambulance (it’s hard to get any light into this dark film). The vicious beating inside was shown in detail; but because the room was so darkened and the jerky movements of the camera were all over the place, it was hard to clearly follow the action. It was also hard to see what benefit playing this movie backwards had.

The main body of the story revolves around Alex, Pierre, and Marcus attending a chic party, where Alex’s ex-boyfriend Pierre just wants to watch Alex dance while Marcus gets stoned on a line of cocaine and other pill popping drugs. This upsets Alex, who leaves the party alone and while dressed in a high-fashion revealing evening dress takes a short cut through a darkened underpass and gets raped in the anus and savagely pounded in the face by a knife-wielding animal.

There are scenes leading up to the two violent incidents that are calmer, such as a free-spirited sexual conversation on the Paris Metro among the three party-goers about Pierre’s inability to see sex as more than a task. In the closing scene there’s a bedroom shot of the naked Marcus and Alex horse-playing on the bed.

I found Irreversible had nothing to say about modern relationships that was important, in fact I found its messages to be warped. Its main point being “Vengeance is man’s right,” which is nonsense. It’s the babble of an intellectual lightweight trying to make a name for himself by being politically incorrect. Marcus and Pierre are arrested after killing the supposed rapists (though it’s never clear if that was the rapist). In any case, that seems an ugly way to solve the modern world’s alienation problems. What Noé seems to be good at, is upsetting the applecart and saying in this modern world of vice and depravity everything goes–man is an animal, so why not forget about love and live by the law of the jungle. This might be a pleasing message for those who have given up hope for civilization and mankind, but it’s also a simplistic antihuman message that lacks thought and deep meaning and compassion for others. The only thing that is hard to deny, is that this seedy film had a certain raw power through its images even though the film itself is forgettable. Noé is a talented filmmaker and though I found much sensibility lacking in Irreversible, it still had a curious effect on me. But I also found there was nothing worthwhile to take away from it, as this film disappointed me as much as I Stand Alone got my attention for its verve. Maybe I gave Noé too much credit for his stand on real politics in my first time around with him.