This year's front runner in the "Most Assaultive Motion Picture" category. Most easily described as an extreme variation on Memento, Irreversible tells a story in reverse chronological order about a woman who is savagely raped and her boyfriend who seeks revenge against the rapist. So the movie opens (after a strange prologue that I think has something to do with Noé's first film I Stand Alone, which I haven't seen) with a character being arrested for murder, then follows through with the murder itself, on to the hunt for the rapist, then the rape itself... and continues with the rest of the day that leads up to those horrific events.
Already the film has drawn a big line between fans and detractors; thanks to scenes of graphic murder and brutal rape, most viewers are either appalled or riveted. But other than being an incredible technical achievement (the entire film is shot in a dozen bravura single takes, some lasting as long as 10 minutes), what does Irreversible have to offer? Not much, beyond Noé's pessimism, and a few thoughts on the concept of predetermination that I'm not sure even Noé believes. However, I have long been fascinated by the idea that a perfectly normal day could end up, within an hour or two, a living nightmare. It's what I'm trying to do with Claustrophobia, so for that I found some affinity for Irreversible's setup.
For me, though, what was most unsettling about this film was not the violence, not the topsy-turvy camerawork, not even the accusations towards Noé of homophobia (which I personally don't see), but the notion that his yuppie characters kind of deserve what's coming to them. I didn't buy it. Nevertheless, Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, and Albert Dupontel (as Cassel's intellectual friend who actually winds up committing the murder) deliver fearless performances, and there is no question that watching the film is a visceral, disturbing experience. It may be considered an important achievement mostly by the same angst-ridden young men who thought Pink Floyd: The Wall and A Clockwork Orange were high art, but although I doubt there's much going on under its surface, on a physical level I haven't shaken it yet.