Gaspar Noé’s IRREVERSIBLE [8/10]
“Take that in your face. Now I’m through with you.” Thus spits a vicious thug (Jo Prestia), gloating over the battered body of the woman (Monica Bellucci) he’s just raped before our eyes in a sickening seven-minute single take. And of course this is writer-director Noé speaking as well, addressing an audience he dares to endure the unendurable.
Noé’s followup to 1998’s controversially brutal Seul Contre Tous is the story of Alex and Marcus, played by Bellucci and Vincent Cassel – the “golden” couple of French cinema. When Alex is left comatose after being assaulted in a bleak subway underpass, Marcus’s quest for revenge results in a bystander being beaten to death with a fire-extinguisher in a horribly convincing sequence near the start of the film. Because this horror-story unfolds backwards, Memento-style, we start in the (almost literal) pit of hell, and progress relentlessly towards a savagely ironic happy ending featuring Alex and Marcus’s domestic bliss.
Be warned: this is cinema as intense ordeal, almost gratuitously desperate in its need to make us look away, walk out, denounce, boycott, picket, whatever. The sensory assault begins with the first frame, and continues to the retina-blasting, eardrum pounding strobe-coda 90-odd minutes later – very few films have ever been so hell-bent on scourging its viewers basic cinemagoing faculties. This is art operating at, and beyond, the accepted limits of taste and decency. It must be seen by anyone who is both (A) even remotely interested in the state of modern cinema, and (B) in possession of a very strong stomach.
August 18th, 2002
(seen August 13th, Filmhouse Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Film Festival)