Irreversible (2002)

Time destroys everything.
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Irreversible - Time destroys everything.

It is difficult to not spoil a movie that runs in reverse chronological order so to get the unpleasantries out of the way they all live again at the end... the beginning may not be so optimism filled. Gaspar Noé presents a disturbing tale of a night out in Paris (but less likely to scar the brain than "One Night in Paris") with Irreversible. The disturbance revolves around two particularly brutal scenes and a barrage of homophobic and sexually violent abuse which, due to the unconventional way that the story pans in, becomes more brutal and offensive as the film progresses and the causes for the effect are revealed. Effect and cause is a prominent theme throughout and there is a lesson, albeit a harsh lesson, about fidelity running alongside a story about letting go of inhibitions and really enjoying your evening out.

Reverse chronological stories in film is not a revolutionary idea, Memento highlighted that just two years earlier but Irreversible is not just a gimmick despite relying on the backwards element to a certain degree. This film would have worked adequately moving forward through time but a lot of the impact of the violence would have been lost. The story initially moves at a tremendous pace and the confusion and jarring noise keeps a high level of tension as the viewer tries to cope with the bombardment of stimuli. As the movie regresses it gradually slows down culminating in a happy place but the violent place that the characters are destined for continues to haunt. It is quite an achievement to give away the ending and maintain interest. The movie slow burns after the initial sensory assault but there are sufficient happenings already in place to keep the mind returning to the previous scenes while trying to digest the joys of fresh love, friendship, good sex and the beauty of motherhood.

The main cast is minimal but Albert Dupontel, Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel all give very powerful and intense performances. This is a very sexual film but in the Baise-Moi way (Baise-Moi is very dirty... very, very dirty.) The level of tits, wang and butthole on display throughout is almost gratuitous but, in the context of the film, adds to the intensity of nastiness portrayed. The violence is ultra-violent but is used minimally and not used as a gimmick either, more a kick in the emotions to intensify the story. Throw in some small transsexual penis, drug misuse, a case of mistaken identity and numerous fisting references and you are faced with quite an overwhelming experience.

Pierre (Dupontel) and Alex (Bellucci) are an amicably separated couple maintaining their friendship. Pierre is a quite introverted intellectual with no vices and is quite the opposite of Alex's new love Marcus (Cassel). The three hit the town for a trendy party with their trendy friends but things go pear shaped when Marcus' vices get the better of him and his party animal antics make Alex leave the party early. She runs into a nasty pimp in the underpass who relieves her of her party clothes and helps her slip into something more comfortable... which in this instance is a coma. Pierre and Marcus witness the aftermath of the fracas and seek vengeance with the help of a couple or criminals.

Irreversible is a powerful piece of cinema but probably won't warrant many repeat viewings once the novelties have worn off. Without the extremities, the tiny revelations, the disorienting camerawork and the whole backwards thing the story is not that overly engaging. Once you have worked out how it pans out going forwards there is no real impact from the reversal. The message is bleak and there is a depth to the story and characters that make this much more than just novelties but there is an element of mystery which, once comprehended, doesn't require much more picking apart. Irreversible is more a work of art than a compelling tale of revenge and loss. The beauty is in its simplicity but the urge to keep watching is in the complexity.
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