DRAMA IRREVERSIBLE (18) 97min 0...

Irreversible is one of a number of recent French films that lives up to its bad press. ‘Is it art or filth?’ run the sensational headlines. Who really cares, as long as no one was hurt or exploited in its making, and the ideas contained within are open to debate despite the oppressive mood and graphic content of the film itself?

Irreversible is the story of the vicious rape of Alex (Monica Bellucci) and the revenge taken by her boyfriend Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and her ex boyfriend Pierre (Albert Dupontel). It’s a revenge drama as old and banal as the hills. Except it’s not, you see; the first of many stylistic tricks that director Casper Noé pulls on his audience is to tell his tale in reverse. So we start confused and disorientated in the heat of retribution and work backwards to a slim glimpse of happiness that precedes future tragedies. It’s a juvenile trick that’s been whistled by everyone from Martin Amis to Christopher Nolan, from Harold Pinter to Kurt Vonnegut. Anyone who saw Noé’s ugly, dyspeptic debut feature I Stand Alone, however, will know that he is an unusual filmmaker who is far from being above the flim-flammery of style over content, and positively revels in upping the ante of every cinematic taboo.

Time, no doubt, will prove Noé to be little more than the louche wine-bar crooner who always ends his act by pissing inside his piano, but for now his vision, and the sheer breadth of talent he gets to work with, is impressive. Bellucci is stunning as the apex of the movie’s fractured timeline. To fall into cliche for a moment, her performance is genuinely brave beyond the call of duty. Benoit Debie‘s (along with Noé’s) cinematography is remarkably fluid, appropriately sordid and, above all, anarchistic. This film would, however, be nothing without the soundscape work of Jean Luc Audy and others, plus composer Thomas Bangalter. Their work borders on the criminal. Subliminal and nausea- inducing (a sound technique allegedly pioneered by the LA police during the 1992 riots in order to quell protesters) but also deeply affecting, it may account for an impressive number of auditorium faintings during festival screenings of this movie.

Flawed and clumsy, but technically brilliant and often truly repellent, you are unlikely to see the like of Irreversible again in a lifetime of trawling cinema’s gutter. Which is a shame because at its dark heart there is a sweet boy sitting in a sun-kissed meadow reading JW Dunne’s An Experiment in Time and pondering how he can really piss off the cineastes and critics the world over. For Noe, at least, this is the comedy of the year. (Paul Dale)

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