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French filmmaker Gaspar Noe, the director of the unwatchable and


thinks his film is an allegory on the dark side of the human
– the part that allows us to chuck logic out the window and
stick with gut instinct.
French filmmaker Gaspar Noe, the director of the unwatchable and horrible “Irreversible,” thinks his film is an allegory on the dark side of the human spirit – the part that allows us to chuck logic out the window and stick with gut instinct.

By presenting extremely tasteless violence on the screen without blinking, presenting it in all its excess, Noe thinks he is saying something about humanity’s propensity for violence, but, really he is celebrating and glorifying it in his new film.

Noe borrows from Christopher Nolan – whose “Mememto” used a backward technique in telling the story – playing the end credits, followed by the final scene, and the scene preceeding it, all the way back to the beginning of the story, so we can see where the motivations for all this carnage and bloodshed originate.

But his plan backfires by putting the audience through some of the most painful and shocking violence ever committed to celluloid (although the film was shot on a digital camera for ease of movement), numbing us to the point that many reviewers ran from the theater during the press screening.

“Irreversible” starts with the last scene of the film, which culminates in one of the most nasty killings in film history, as we watch the main characters Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and his good buddy Pierre (Albert Dupontel) push their way like a pack of wild dogs into a homosexual nightclub on the Paris strip called The Rectum.

The camera, which acts as the characters’ eyes, moves nauseatingly through the corridors of the club, as we see countless acts of gay sex (including an erect penis), but the camera never lingers on one for more than a few seconds. Marcus and Pierre keep asking for a pimp named Le Tenia, but we don’t know why they’re foaming at the mouth to find him. In a few minutes, we’re about to find out.

When Marcus and Pierre finally find Le Tenia, Marcus starts to fight him and punches him a few times, only to be outfoxed. Le Tenia gets Marcus on the ground and manipulates his arm, breaking it, graphically. Pierre comes to his friend’s rescue, though, and what follows is perhaps the single most brutally violent scene in the history of the world’s popular cinema: Pierre grabs a fire extinguisher from the club’s wall, and with many patrons watching, proceeds to bash Le Tenia’s skull not once, but perhaps as many as 50 times, illuminated by a scant red light.

The scene would be particularly graphic even if it would have happened off camera, but Noe decides to frame his camera lens on the victim’s head, which we see transformed into a mess of brains and broken bone. The victim’s face, once handsome, is now unrecognizable, and doesn’t even look as though it belongs to someone who used to be human being.

Moving backward, the next scene shows us Marcus and Pierre as they are heading to The Rectum club, blood rage oozing out of their pores. They have flagged a taxi, one that is driven by a French taxi driver of Chinese descent. When it becomes clear that the cabbie is unsure of the direction to the club, the two thugs start verbally attacking the driver with dialogue that shows that racism is not just an American institution – it is alive and well in France as well.

The scene, while not as terrifying as the opening murder, is almost as tough to take because the driver has no way to escape their wrath; to them, the driver is only an object of ridicule and scorn and not human in any way, which explains their irrational contempt for him.

After Marcus sees his beloved Alex (Monica Bellucci) whisked away in an ambulance with her face caved in, he goes crazy.

The scene that follows shows Alex taking a shortcut through the subway tunnels, only to be found by Le Tenia. He attacks her, and begins to sodomize her, in the most horrifying rape scene I have ever seen (it makes the one in “A Clockwork Orange” look like Disney). The scene is made all the more unbearable by going on for 10 minutes.

“Irreversible” is excellent technically, but fails to say anything about violence that we don’t already know. By turning the camera on the brutality, Noe hoped to shock us into sympathy for all the characters, but instead seems to celebrate it. I know that couldn’t have been his intention, but the meaning of a film is always up to the audience to interpret.

IRREVERSIBLE. Written and directed by Gaspar Noe. With Monica Bellucci, Vincent Casel, Albert Dupontel, Philippe Nahon and Jo Prestia. UNRATED (Would be X or NC-17 for graphic sex, the most extreme violence imaginable, and every conceivable excess), 99 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Now playing at art houses throughout the Bay Area.

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