The enfant terrible of contemporary French cinema, director Gaspar Noe follows his challenging feature I Stand Alone with the even more controversial Irreversible, which predictably created waves when premiered at Cannes. If Noe’s earlier work belonged to a form of underground or counter-cinema, the new film brings him closer to the art-house mainstream, but without compromising his deliberately confrontational aesthetic. He upped the ante here by approaching Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci (two of European cinema’s hottest stars and real-life partners) with the idea of making the film Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman should have made with Stanley Kubrick.
If Eyes Wide Shut was contemplative and dream-like, Noe’s assault on his audience’s sensibilities takes on the qualities of a nightmare. Right from the start, the camera plunges us into a demented world of sexual confusion and terrible violence as Marcus (Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) go on the rampage in an S&M club, beating a man to pulp with a fire extinguisher. The narrative unfolds in reverse, and it’s only later that we discover the men were on a mission to revenge the brutal rape of Marcus’s pregnant partner, Alex (Bellucci). After the relentless attack of the opening section, the film gradually settles down to allow some space for reflection. In fact, the reverse chronology has a very curious effect in that it means the film ends on an optimistic note, with tranquil images of the happy couple before their lives are brutally destroyed. Far from endorsing any kind of ‘right to revenge’ philosophy, Irreversible shows how easily man can regress into terrible animalistic violence. It’s a theme that Kubrick explored, and Irreversible’s concern with the effects of time (its ‘time destroys everything’ credo, the reverse chronology) connects up with another Kubrick obsession, as Noe acknowledges by referencing 2001.
France, 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 95 mins.

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