Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: Not Rated, but should be NC-17 for graphic violence, nudity, and disquieting acts of cruelty. In French with English subtitles
Run Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
According to the rumors, two hundred angry audience members stalked out of last year’s Cannes Film Festival screening of “Irréversible”, presumably to upchuck their cassoulet into the nearest receptacle. Two festival programmers threatened to quit if the film was allowed into competition; one contemplated walking if it wasn’t.
“Irréversible” is such an uncompromising statement of lurid human behavior that’s it’s difficult to put the words to paper. Potent feelings linger long after the lights have come up – of a fury born of fear, and helpless admiration in the face of brutal honesty.
The film opens with an impossibly gruesome orgy staged at the gay sex club Rectum, where loose cannon Marcus (Vincent Cassel) is frantically tearing the place apart looking for someone called Le Tenia. That frenetic search results in the most horrifying act of murder ever committed to screen.
Swirling, disorienting cameras and screeching violins merge with nauseatingly eerie lighting for a vomit-inducing journey through the gay underground. Since the film is run in reverse order (think “Memento”), the narrative ever-so-gradually reveals the root of Marcus’ frenzy: the brutal rape of live-in lover Alex (Monica Bellucci), who abruptly left a party solo because of Marcus’ insufferably boorish behavior. The ruthless, violating nine-minute rape scene has the potential in and of itself to clear out the theater.
Gaspar Noé’s profoundly disturbing work ultimately succumbs to a sweetly observed climax/beginning; a splendid valentine to spring love supported by Beethoven’s keenly poignant Symphony No. 7. That pristine moment, coupled with the knowledge of unsettling abominations, is unspeakably overwhelming (and tripped an unexpected wave of tears).
Critics and audiences have been and will continue to be sharply divided on the subject of this unflinching French import. “Irréversible” is a project of vast extremes, a flagrant affirmation of absolute darkness and light. Approach with caution.