Irreversible (1998): Gaspar Noe’s Bold, Audacious, Sick, Ugly, Mesmerizing, Scintillating Feature (French Extreme Cinema) (Cinema of the Body)

Irréversible (French pronunciation: ​[iʁevɛʁsibl]) is a 2002 French psychological thriller drama film written and directed by Gaspar Noé. Starring Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, and Albert Dupontel

It depicts the events of a tragic night in Paris as two men attempt to avenge the brutal rape and beating of the woman they love.

The film is told in reverse order: Each scene takes place before the one that precedes it.

Irréversible competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Fest.

It won the Bronze Horse at the Stockholm Film Festival.

Critical reception to the film was mixed, ranging from praise to the performances and Noé’s direction, to criticism of its graphic portrayal of violence and rape.

Booed at Cannes, the movie was deemed so violent and cruel that it marked one of the largest walkouts I have ever seen in Cannes

Narrative Structure

During a night in Paris, emergency personnel respond to altercation at the Rectum, a gay BDSM club. Two men are taken outside the club: Marcus, who is on stretcher, and Pierre, who is arrested by the police.

The following scene shows a volatile Marcus and  reluctant Pierre enter the Rectum in search of an individual known as Le Tenia. Marcus gets into a fight with a man he suspects of being Le Tenia, who breaks his arm and attempts to anally rape him.

Pierre retaliates by beating the man to death with fire extinguisher as the man’s companion watches in amusement.

It is revealed the two men are attempting to avenge a brutal attack on Alex, Marcus’ girlfriend and Pierre’s former lover.

In the film’s chronology, Alex leaves a party attended by the two men due to Marcus’ behavior. She walks home alone through pedestrian underpass and witnesses a transgender prostitute being beaten by Le Tenia, who is revealed as the companion of the man killed at the Rectum.

Le Tenia threatens Alex with a knife before raping her and beating her into unconsciousness. After Marcus and Pierre discover Alex taken away by paramedics, they encounter street criminals Mourad and Layde, who offer help to find the culprit.

The group tracks down Concha, the prostitute, through ID she dropped at the scene. Concha identifies Le Tenia as Alex’s rapist, setting up the events at the Rectum.

The later scenes of the film depict Alex, Marcus, and Pierre earlier in the day. Alex may have left the more reserved Pierre for the uninhibited Marcus because he could not satisfy her sexually.

The film also reveals that Alex received positive result on  pregnancy test she took at the start of the day.

In the final scene, Alex is shown reading in a park before the film transitions to a strobe effect that ends with the message “Le Temps Detruit Tout” (“Time destroys everything”).

Director Gaspar Noé has a cameo as one of the patrons in the Rectum.

Noé found financing for Irréversible after he pitched the story to be told in reverse, capitalizing on the popularity of Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000).

Irréversible was shot using a widescreen lightweight Minima Super16 mm camera.

The film consists of about a dozen apparently unbroken shots melded together from hundreds of shots. This included nine- minute-long rape scene, portrayed in a single unbroken shot.

Noé had no idea how long the rape scene was going to last, as this was determined of Monica Bellucci, who essentially directed the scene, and Jo Prestia, who played her assailant.

Noé stated that during the production of the film he used cocaine in order to help him carry the large cameras needed to capture the rotating shots in the film.

Computer-generated imagery was used in post-production for the penis in the rape scene. Another example is the scene where Pierre beats a man’s face and crushes his skull with a fire extinguisher. CGI was used to augment the results, as initial footage using a conventional latex dummy proved unconvincing.

During sixty minutes of its 97 minutes running time, the film uses extremely low-frequency sound to create a state of nausea and anxiety in the audience.

The film premiered in France on 22 May 2002 through Mars Distribution. It competed at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.

It was released in the United Kingdom on 31 January 2003 through Metro Tartan Distribution, and the United States on 7 March 2003 through Lions Gate Films. Audience reactions to both the rape scene and the murder scene have ranged from appreciation of their artistic merits to leaving the theater in disgust.[19] Newsweek’s David Ansen stated that “If outraged viewers (mostly women) at the Cannes Film Festival are any indication, this will be the most walked-out-of movie of 2003.” In the same review, Ansen suggested that the film displayed “an adolescent pride in its own ugliness”.

Critical response to the film was divided, with some critics panning the film and others considering it one of the year’s best.

The film’s structure makes it inherently moral, by presenting vengeance before the acts that inspire it, we are forced to process the vengeance first, and therefore think more deeply about its implications.

Irréversible won the top award, the Bronze Horse for best film, at the 2002 Stockholm International Film Festival. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Award by the Film Critics Circle of Australia. It was voted Best Foreign Language Film by the San Diego Film Critics Society, tied with The Barbarian Invasions.

It grossed $792,200 from theatrical screenings.

Irréversible has been associated with the cinéma du corps (“cinema of the body”), which according to Palmer includes attenuated use of narrative, assaulting and often illegible cinematography, confrontational subject material, and a pervasive sense of social nihilism or despair. Irréversible has also been associated with the New French Extremity movement.

Is the film homophobic? Noé’s depiction of gay criminal Le Tenia raping the female lead Alexi s the film’s most controversial image. In his defense, Noé stated, “I’m not homophobic. I appear masturbating at the gay club as means of showing that I didn’t feel superior to gay people.”

Monica Bellucci as Alex
Vincent Cassel as Marcus
Albert Dupontel as Pierre
Jo Prestia as Le Tenia
Fatima Adoum as Fatima
Mourad Khima as Mourad
Hellal as Layde
Jaramillo as Concha
Michel Gondoin as Mick
Jean-Louis Costes as Fistman
Philippe Nahon as the man (The Butcher)
Stéphane Drouot as Butcher’s friend