In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “In a world where movies have desensitised audiences to this kind of thing, I kind of admire Noe for making something so confronting.”
The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“You want me to say it? Time destroys everything.”
The reason I have to make a concerted effort to see more foreign language movies is that they seem like a little more work and a little more of a risk than English language movies. I have no problem with subtitles, but the lack of familiarity with the cultures they depict means a little more concentration is often required to keep up. And the lack of familiar names and faces in front of and behind the camera means a bigger chance of stumbling across shit bomb. Anything considered art house scares me for the same reasons. So the prospect of a foreign language, art house movie had me more than just a little trepidatious, which I think is the perfect mindset to have going into Irreversible.
Police cars and ambulances surround the outside of a gay nightclub in Paris. A man is arrested and another is taken out on a stretcher. Flash back to sometime earlier, the man being arrested (Albert Dupontel as Pierre) and the man on the stretcher (Vincent Casell as Marcus) are rampaging through the nightclub. When they think they’ve found the man they’ve been looking for, Marcus goes on the attack, but has his arm broken. Pierre saves Marcus from being raped, with a fire extinguisher to the head of the attacker.
Flash back a few more times, and we see the motivation for their assault on the nightclub. Earlier that night, Marcus’ girlfriend (Monic Bellucci as Alex) was brutally raped in the street and left for dead. More flash backs show the trio of Marcus, Alex Pierre at a party, and reveal little tidbits about their shared past and how they know each other.
Yep, Irreversible is edited Momento style, with its scenes placed in reverse order. We start at the end, and work out way back to see how these characters’ eventual extreme actions were motivated by very ordinary beginnings. Released two years after Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough, it would be easy to accuse Irreversible of being a cheap Momento knock off, just with a more graphic and button pushing execution.
As I watched it, I wondered why writer and director Gasper Noe would risk that comparison when it was clear that his movie wasn’t heading towards any big twist or reveal like Momento did to justify its gimmicky structure. Don’t get me wrong, I love Momento and think it’s a gimmick used well and used for a reason. And while I may have questioned the point of it for much of Irreversible, by the time it played out, I appreciated the use of this gimmick specifically because it did not lead to any big twist or reveal.
I don’t know much about Gasper Noe, and this is the first of his movies I’ve ever seen. What I do know is that he’s a bit of a provocateur. In fact, the posters for this movie bragged about the number of people who walked out during its Cannes Film Festival premier. Having now seen Irreversible, I understand why they walked out.
The nausea inducing camera movements in the early nightclub attack scene tested my limits. The long, unflinching, single taker scene of Alex’s rape is nothing less than brutal. But as I realised how uncomfortable these scenes made me, I also realised that scenes depicting this kind of violence and abuse should make a viewer uncomfortable. In a world where movies have desensitised audiences to this kind of thing, I admire Noe for making something so confronting. I never want to see it again, but I admire it.