There isn't a warning strong enough to prepare you for Gaspar Noé's Irreversible (screens Saturday, July 26, at the Dryden). But it's not only because of the now-infamous graphic violence or brutal rape scene, which had people fleeing, presumably with their hands either up in the air or over their eyes, from its Cannes premiere in 2002. The film, which is dizzying, shocking, and frigging beautiful, is not the sort of thing you'll want to witness from the front row if you get sick on amusement park rides. And if you're offended by violence on screen, especially vigorous anal rape, it's best viewed from a theatre showing something else.
Like the wildly popular Memento, Irreversible is told backwards, yet it does one major thing differently to up the ante. The film is comprised of 12 scenes that take place over one day, and each is shot in a single, long, continuous take (I love that!). Irreversible is also different from the carefully penned Memento in that most of the dialogue is improvised by its actors. Writer-director Noé had only a three-page outline for a script when shooting started. Those two reasons alone should be enough to make any serious film buff want to see Irreversible, but there's even further motivation for the more demented of you: Noé is one sick bastard. His Cannes-winning movie I Stand Alone had a warning nearly as large as the title of the film on the poster, and he was thanked in the credits of Baise-moi. Baise-moi, for Christ's sake!
Story-wise, Irreversible might seem a lot more like a Memento rip-off than it really is. They're both rape-and-revenge tales (à la Death Wish) that feature bloodthirsty male characters trying to hunt down the men who violated their women but aren't really sure if they're on the right track. It all starts, after the backwards closing credits and an epilogue to Alone that's just going to confuse a lot of people, with Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) leaving a club called Rectum amidst vast confusion and the lights of both the police and an ambulance.
Actually, if you think that's chaotic, you're in for a wild trip in Irreversible's next scene, which shows Marcus and Pierre heading into the club to look for a man called Le Tenia. Rectum is a cavernous gay, S and M venue, and as we progress in our journey through its labyrinthine layout, Noé never stops moving, tilting, and panning. It's almost like the camera is a hot potato that he tosses into the air after holding it in his hands for the briefest periods of time. There's also a lot of rumbling bass and frightening, droning music, but the visuals are so whacked out that you might not even notice it. And at the end of this seemingly endless catacomb of depravity, there's an incident of violence that actually made my stomach lurch --- which is a rarity for me, unless I'm watching something with Kate Hudson.
As the scenes progress, we learn that Marcus and Pierre are best buds, and we also meet Marcus's girlfriend Alex (Monica Bellucci, who's married to Cassel in real life). The centerpiece of Irreversible is a scene where Alex, after leaving a party due to a drug-induced quarrel with Marcus, is raped and beaten in what might be the only static shot of the entire film. It looks, sounds, and feels so real, and it's very, very tough to watch, even when you know it's coming. Oh, and it goes on for about 10 minutes, too.
Noé's camera movement finally settles down once Marcus starts downing coke at the aforementioned party. The writer-director-editor-cinematographer-cameo actor shows absolutely no restraint here, which actually makes his film more interesting, as opposed to, say, Baz Luhrmann, who made Moulin Rouge horrendously unwatchable by attempting to do the same thing. The messages here (hammered home with title cards) are hardly subtle, nor are the camera pans toward the ceiling at the end of every scene, as if we're watching during a descent into hell. Still, Irreversible more than makes up for a summer full of disappointment and outright junk.
If you found last week's Rochester Jewish Film Festival a little Israeli-centric for your tastes, you might want to check out Divine Intervention (screens Friday, July 25, at the Dryden), which has become the Palestinian equivalent of E.T., The Wizard of Oz, and Annie Hall, all rolled into one. The double Cannes-winner would probably be much better known over here had it found a larger US distributor, which it may have been able to do if it had earned its anticipated Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. But Intervention wasn't eligible, because Palestine is not officially recognized as a country by the UN, and thus, the Academy.
Not that I think it would have deserved a nomination. Intervention is nothing more than a string of absurdly bleak comedic skits set around Nazareth that play off of the eternal Arab-Israeli tensions. Writer-director-producer-star Elia Suleiman certainly knows a decent visual gag when he sees one, but I'm not sure what his point was. Some vignettes have easily recognizable yet covertly anti-Israeli morals, and others make little sense. At least to ol' Wonder Bread here, anyway. Gags range from Santa being chased by rock-heaving kids, to dancing IDF soldiers, to a Matrix spoof (yeah --- it's so 1998), to a discarded peach pit that blows up an Israeli tank. The best running bit involves Suleiman's character meeting his Ramallah girlfriend (Manal Khader) at a military checkpoint and holding hands as they watch IDF soldiers harass Arabs. It's like Middle Eastern Friends.
Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.