While recently discussing beautiful actresses for last week’s Six of the Best feature, a friend asked if Monica Bellucci was in consideration for inclusion on the list. I had to be honest and say that although I knew the name, I didn’t know what the actress looked like and couldn’t name any of her films. I was told that she was in the film Irreversible, that it was horrible and that I should watch it. Again, like the actress, the film and its notoriety wasn’t unknown to me but I hadn’t seen it. The following discussion was filled with reasons as to why I should and shouldn’t watch it and I agreed with my friend bringing the film to work later in the week. I was warned however that under no circumstances should I watch it with my girlfriend. I was to wait until she was out or away or something, but just not in the house. Now I’ve seen the movie, I’m glad I heeded his advice.
Irreversible is a movie which wants to make you uncomfortable from the very get go. Its interesting title sequence features back to front wording which seems to slide off the screen as the ‘camera’ rotates like the hand of a clock while pulsating, barely audible noise plays over it. This infrasound has been clinically proven to create anxiety, revulsion and sorrow when played to humans and it successfully created all three in me. The plot uses a non linear narrative to tell of two men who attempt to enact revenge after a rape. Beginning at the end and finishing at the beginning, the film isn’t difficult to understand and it’s much simpler than the likes of Memento. The structure is fascinating and works really well to create at times, tension, panic, worry, and towards the end, a welcome sense of calm coupled with impending dread.
The movie slows as it progresses in much the same way as a normal A to B narrative will quicken. The film opens with a flurry of sound and image as the climax is revealed in maddening glory. The sense of uneasiness is heightened by a tremendously adept but deeply unsettling cinematographic style which sees the camera swirl around the action in a way that reminded me of getting into bed after ten pints. The room seems to spin and it’s difficult to focus on anything and this helps the director to get away with including some early shocking images from inside a gay night club. This explicit footage is nothing compared to what is to come though. I initially liked the style of camera movement but it soon began to irritate me. I expect that this was intentional and it’s very well done either way. I don’t know how some of the shots were captured and I’ve never seen camera movement like it. It was almost like the camera was on a bungee cord that was thrown around the set although it was positioned with great purpose and was clearly well planned.
Something else which sows great craft is the editing. In this department the film reminded me of Hitchcock’s overlooked masterpiece, Rope. In that film as with this, the editing is done in a seamless manner and cuts are difficult to spot. Because of the wild and seemingly uncontrolled camera movement, the director and his editor can cut frames and scenes without the viewer necessarily spotting it. This creates scenes which last a long time and look as though they were impossible to shoot. There are only fifteen scenes in the whole movie, a number which would usually indicate something slow and tender but for the most part this is anything but. At times, in the early stages of the film I was reminded of a modern, post Bourne action movie. The erratic camera and quick movement feels like a forbear of the current shooting methods of action genre.
Because you see the film in reverse, you’ve often already seen the after effects of a scene or conversation as you’re witnessing it. This creates a sense of tension and dread as you sit powerless on your sofa, watching something you have no control over. In a way it creates a sense of guilt inside the viewer’s own head as although you have no power to stop what is about to happen, you’ve seen where it’s going and feel somehow complicit. It’s a very clever idea which adds even more to the uneasy feeling that the film creates. The ebb and flow of scenes is also very well handled as they build and fall in and unsettling order. Often having just seen something horrific, you are taken to the beginnings of a scene that chronologically precedes it where all is calm and the characters are happy. This again is unsettling and saddening as you know what is down the line for the character.
There were three moments in the film’s ninety-seven minutes that I couldn’t bare to watch. These included the very final frames in which a strobe effect is placed on the screen after a final fade to white as though to say “Yeah, you thought we were done? Well how about this!” After a slightly calmer closing than opening, this was a final thrust of the hammer to my already battered head. Earlier though, there is much worse. The first time I was unable to watch was during a scene that involved a fire extinguisher. The noise alone was enough for me and as soon as I saw what was coming, my eyes involuntarily closed, opening after each crunch before closing milliseconds later. I did peak a look at the results of this scene and it was one of the many images that made my stomach turn.
The film’s most infamous scene is the prolonged and extremely violent rape scene. As I’ve already mentioned, this was what I knew the film for and the movie builds up to it from both it’s start and finish in such a way that you can’t escape it. It’s hard to describe the scene but all I can say is that it looks incredibly realistic and is deeply harrowing. Both actors are superb but you forget they are actors while watching. It’s one of the most miserable and disheartening things I’ve ever witnessed and had I known just how brutal the scene was, I don’t think I would have watched the movie. The scene in The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo looks like Finding Nemo compared to the viciousness and ignobleness of this.
What makes it all the worse is the beating that follows. All the way through the vile act you know that it’s coming because you’ve already seen what comes next and it was this kicking and punching which marked the third occasion that I had to turn away from the screen. The rape scene also marks a pronounced change in the cinematography from the quick, stirred up camera work from before to a more still and measured style. The rape scene feels so still compared to what precedes it and this makes watching it all the worse. I actually turned the volume down on the TV during this scene in case any neighbours heard what I was watching.
The film features some incredible acting from Bellucci and Vincent Cassell in particular. Monica Bellucci acts in what must be some of the most difficult scenes ever committed to film. She is believable in the horrific scenes but also really sweet and coy in later scenes. Her character is really likeable and fun which makes everything else much worse. She has great chemistry with her co-star and it didn’t surprise me to read that the couple were married at the time of shooting and remain so to this day. Few people can match Vincent Cassell for intensity and he shows it here. In the early scenes he’s like a whirlwind, a man possessed. He’s violent, cruel and unflinching in his quest for revenge which plays totally opposite to the adorable man of the latter scenes. He’s also great at the party, again showing another side to himself. Compared to the other two leads, Albert Dupontel fades into the background slightly but he is a calming influence on some of the more on edge scenes.
I’m still unsure as to whether I’m glad I’ve seen Irreversible. While it undoubtedly features the cinematic craft at its height, it’s also without a doubt the most uncomfortable viewing experience of my life so far. At times I hated the film and the way it made me feel but I can’t deny that its effect on me wasn’t entirely bad. I don’t feel uplifted and I feel dirty and grubby but I feel better for watching it in that I have seen something uniquely disgusting and doubt I’ll ever see anything to match it again.