IRREVERSIBLE: STRAIGHT CUT Review: Gaspar Noe Goes Back To The Well
French-Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noe needs no introduction; he’s one of the most notorious and controversial directors currently active.
In fact, he and fellow hellraiser Lars von Trier probably have a running contest going to see who can push the audience’s discomfort buttons further. Von Trier probably wins it after his "I love Hitler" comments, but only by a hair.
Noe’s entire reputation rests on 2002’s Irreversible; even though he had previously directed I Stand Alone (1998), an unsparing film involving father-daughter incest and child abuse (as well as a prior short, Carne), it was not until his second film that he became infamous. A brutal rape revenge drama that had the novelty of being told in reverse, it’s now being rereleased in a “Straight Cut”, and before you start thinking that this is the director’s uncut vision with new material – there’s no way Noe left anything off the final version – it’s basically the same film, only now rearranged in its proper chronological order.
For anyone who covered their eyes and swore never to sit through this again, here’s a reminder of its (very simple) premise: ethereal Alex (Monica Bellucci) leaves a party early one night, ditching both her drug-addled, hyperactive, douchebag of a beau Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and her sadsack, moping ex, Pierre (Albert Dupontel). She’s then attacked and savagely raped by a bottom feeder known only as Le Tenia (Jo Prestia) and soon, Marcus and a reluctant Pierre are tearing a path through a local BDSM club looking for revenge. It’s savage and in-your-face, prompting walkouts at screenings – and Noe probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
The movie’s infamy rests primarily on two scenes: the brutal, uncut rape, which goes on for a harrowing ten or so minutes; and the unforgettable sight of some poor bastard getting his head caved in with a fire extinguisher in full gory detail. Those two moments are still here and are still a punch to the gut; it’s what happens when humanity gives in to its basest impulses and goes feral and savage.
Coupled with Noe’s kinetic, out-of-control directing style makes for a disorienting experience, as if you’re going down into Hell itself with Marcus and Pierre. And once revenge is served, you don’t feel the usual, expected catharsis, but just sadness at how ugly things get.
The biggest change in this new version is its cumulative effect. By originally presenting the story backwards, Noe front-loaded the movie with Marcus’ brutal crusade, making the quiet, romantic final moments hit hard, a sad reveal of what is lost and will never be the same again; you’re as exhausted and broken down as its characters.
`Here, by following a linear trajectory, we’re pretty much just awaiting the inevitable; it builds dread as it heads towards its grim conclusion. The end result is largely the same – shock, outrage, disgust – but the path there is slightly different.
Irreversible was part of what was later termed the French Extremity Movement; directors including Noe, Alexandre Aja, Pascal Laugier, Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury, and others, created a series of hard-hitting, grotesque and extreme horror/thriller movies meant to shock an audience and make them uncomfortable. Noe’s second film was at the forefront of that movement, and still retains the capacity to shock. However, it’s also true that it’s been matched or maybe even eclipsed by other extreme films from France and other countries; A Serbian Film is an obvious example.
The question is if anyone who watched this movie originally is willing to sit through it more than once; it’s not exactly a pleasant watch. But Noe is undoubtedly one of the most interesting stylists in contemporary cinema, a style which he perfected in subsequent movies such as the “dance movie from Hell”, Climax, or the recent Vortex, a searing meditation on old age which also revealed a much softer, humane side from the director.
Irreversible is, at the very least, a chance to see his style in an early form. Love it or (most likely) hate it, this is a movie that causes an impact and isn’t easily forgotten.
Irreversible: Straight Cut is playing in different cities across the United States starting on 10 February 2023. The original 35mm cut will also be playing on select dates. For more information, go here.
- Gaspar Noé
- Gaspar Noé
- Monica Bellucci
- Vincent Cassel
- Albert Dupontel