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Irreversible - Movie Review

In my modest cinema viewing history (approximately 700 movies) I have never walked out of a movie because its brutal - and I've seen 'The Passion of the Christ', 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'Salo' without as much as battering an eyelid or twitching a toe. And then comes this French movie called 'Irreversible' and hits me like a hurricane. To be fair, I should warn you of a couple of cruel scenes deliberately composed to shake you: a murder and a rape. I sat through the murder with shock and I walked out of the rape visibly shaken. After about a month, I gathered enough courage to finish this movie, very carefully skipping the rape scene. Now that I've seen this movie (of course, barring those few hellish moments) I can tell you that its a rewarding experience, visually and artistically. I recommend, but only for the very strong-hearted, and please note that I don't belong to that category.

There isn't a structured, flowing screenplay and what one finds in its place is improvisations. The movie has very few scenes when compared to a regular movie, which is obviously the result of extremely long shots. Now, this is taxing the actors, for a single blemish could result in the director calling for a repeat shot and with no concretely written dialogues for the lead artistes in most of the scenes and the supporting cast trying their best not to intrude into the main frame. At the end of the movie, I was overwhelmed by the level of performances the three protagonists have delivered, especially Monica Bellucci donning a thoroughly demanding role.

Though this isn't formatted as a message movie, I can easily pick two damn strong messages: the results of losing oneself to the moment; more precisely, the effects of letting the impulse rule the mind. And the second one is pointing out the stark reality of the pervasive presence of beasts in human skin. Most of the movie recounts the events of a fatal evening in a Paris suburb. Alexandra and Marcus are your normal couple with their shares of fights and blushes. Pierre is Marcus' friend and Alexandra's ex-boyfriend. [Spoiler] In a raucous party one weekend, Alex decides to leave early with Marcus staying in the party house. When she takes a lonely subway, she encounters a pimp who very violently rapes and then beats her to coma. When this event dawns on Marcus and Pierre, they decide to deliver justice through their own hands and trace the pimp to a gay bar. Acting on the moment, Pierre pulps a man to death with a fire extinguisher, which I think is not the pimp but someone else. [/Spoiler]

The movie is told in reverse chronology, so towards the end of the movie, we see a normal happy couple but we can't leave the chair with a good feeling because of our knowledge of the supreme tragedy that has descended on them. There aren't any dramatic scenes or unbelievable events: these are the things we read about in newspapers and the director Noe, very subtly and very firmly pushes the message that this could be happening to you; you're as vulnerable as the guy you see on the TV news. In spite of skipping those critical 9 minutes, I felt a hard slap from which I recovered days later.
Monica Bellucci delivers a riveting performance that just blows everything away. This stands taller than the other best female performances I've seen: a courageous portrayal of Phoolan Devi by Seema Biswas in 'Bandit Queen' and Valentina Cervi as a struggling painter in an era of men in 'Artemisia'.

The initial scenes gives the audience an idea of what is about to come: rapidly swirling camera transitions inside a gay bar with extreme sex and a low-frequency buzz for a background music generate a sense of revolt. Many viewers are said to have left the theatre in the first few minutes and a good chunk of those who stayed put left once the (in)famous subway rape scene began. The extreme cruelty lies in the absolute non-commercialization: no background score; a static-as-stone camera; her piercing screams for help; and finally to compound the reality factor, a young man steps into the subway, witnesses what's happening from the behind, stays there for a few moments and walks back without raising a hue - thereby implying the helplessness of the audience to do nothing about such a situation. In another totally improvised scene where Alex, her boyfriend and her ex-boyfriend travel in a metro which must have gone on for a challenging few minutes, they all talk like regular people discussing sexual intimacy, needs of a woman in a relationship and how one feels left out. The only thing great about this scene is how natural is looks, sounds and feels - there is no sense of artificiality or hurry infused, the actors are just relaxed and laid back and follow a natural rhythm that befits the nature of discussion. Typical French.

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4 Responses to “Irreversible - Movie Review”

  1. # Anonymous Anonymous

    I wonder if such movies serve any purpose other than the shock value...

    it could be a good artwork but doesn't subtlety shock more than what a blatant slap on the face does...?


  2. # Blogger Prasad Venkat

    This isn't shocking for the sake of shocking. That's why I mentioned the 'non-commercialization' part. It's just how a man would rape would a woman. What we see in many of the movies are just glossed versions. This is just about how it would be when it happens. 'Truth is stranger than fiction' can be a good parallel here - reality is a hard slap.  

  3. # Blogger P.S. Suresh Kumar

    Prasad - Even I saw this movie just one week back and was totally shocked... unlike you i didn't skip any part... It was so disturbing to say the least... It is so artistic in a way... the visual which starts with a black screen ends with a white screen... the background score gradually moves from a annoying synth score to a mellifluous symphonic score at the end... camera movements gradually become more steady.... everything in synch with the mood of the characters...

    'Requiem for a dream' is another e sickening movie that i saw ...  

  4. # Blogger Prasad Venkat

    The extremes you mention have have a pathos signified in the first line of the movie (or the last line chronologically) - 'Time destroys everything'. The beautiful picture-perfect life is shattered in a matter of one evening.  

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