The first thirty minutes of Gaspar Noé’s “Irreversible” had a background noise added which hovers around the 28 hz frequency. This type of frequency causes nausea, sickness and vertigo in humans; this might help explain the numerous walkouts on the festival circuit the year the film came out (2002; San Sebastian, Cannes)–though there were other reasons (fire extinguisher, anyone?). “Irreversible,” which stars Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci caused debate, disagreements and managed at the same time to bring us deep into the moist recesses of France’s libidinous culture (swapping and the like).
The film was aptly named: the story unspools itself in reverse, so that the first scene is the last one and the last one the first. Many of the people who walked out overlooked, perhaps, the fact that some satisfaction can be had from this.
Noé, an Argentine whose father the well-known semi-abstract painter Luis Felipe Noé planned for “Irreversible” film to be the sequel to his 1998 film “I Stand Alone” (Seul Contre Tous; original title). In the opening shot of “Irreversible” viewers will recognize Philippe Nahon, the disgruntled brute from “I Stand Alone”; he is sitting in his room at a flea-bag motel, a vacant look on his face, muttering some afterthoughts in a gravelly voice to another man sitting nearby. The camera slowly spins away from the room and leaps off the building; it starts hovering above the exterior scene: Cassel and Dupontel being removed from Rectum Club.
For some in the audience, “Irreversible” will forever mean the rape scene, that of Monica Bellucci’s. People have commented about its excruciating length or its violence. A rape means violence, a rape is a rape is a rape. The violence of the scene, however, is such that the audience takes lesser rank next to the camera itself, which seems endowed with voyeuristic tendencies by the filmmaker. And that is ‘la chose qui derange’ (the disturbing thing) with Noe, at least that’s what I’m guessing some of the people walking out of the screening would say.
Noé turns a film camera into a pulsating thing and endows it with a hard-on. The camera tried to make viewers accomplices, at least in a voyeuristic frame of mind, to the point of manipulating them, perhaps? Noé’s true intentions behind “Irreversible” are not well known to us. But, given the vastly unscripted nature of the film, the film’s ultimate meaning is likely not known to the filmmaker himself either. What remains enjoyable about the film is its severe unpopularity among the film establishment; this is the ideal film for celluloid agitprop: small budget, exceptional actors, a seemingly unaudacious story line which quickly develops into a caricature of its former self, and a soundtrack that would make any tronic-heads spin; Guy-Homem de Christo, one half of French group Daft Punk, wrote songs on the soundtrack especially for the film.