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Vincent Cassel mirrors the audience's reaction.

© 2002, Lion's Gate
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In "Irreversible" (IMDb listing) Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Alex (Monica Bellucci) are deeply in love. Pierre (Albert Dupontel) is the older, more mature friend of Marcus, and also happens to be Alex's ex-lover. Despite the obvious tension that may result from this situation, the three still remain close friends. On one fateful night, the trio decides to get together to catch up on old times, and let off some steam at a raging house party. As the night progresses, Marcus starts groping girls and snorting powder, to his uptight friend Pierre's disdain. As Marcus laughs and gyrates, lost in a haze of drug-induced ecstasy, Alex becomes frustrated with her boyfriend's childish cavorting. Fed up, she leaves the party alone to go home and rest. The result of this decision is a rape scene of near-unbearable, despicable violence that will destroy Alex's life, and forever alter the futures of her male friends.

Director Gaspar Noe is no stranger to controversial subject matter. His award-winning movie "I Stand Alone" was about an unemployed ex-convict butcher who goes on a murderous rampage, and then sexually molests his mentally challenged daughter. If that sounds a bit offensive, then you will be absolutely floored by Noe's latest effort. "Irreversible" is technically remarkable to behold. The film plays out in reverse sequence, much like Christopher Nolan's "Memento." The camera work is stunning, and the ambient sound effects successfully build an overwhelming sense of tension and anarchy. But these accomplishments are mostly overshadowed by the repulsive situations that make up the first half of the film.

The camera careens, dives and shakes as it drags us forcibly through the film's early scenes. Pierre and Marcus' frantic quest for retribution brings them to a gay S&M club called Rectum, where their frenzied hunt for the rapist "Le Tenia" leads them to a vicious showdown with the denizens of the underground club. Throughout the film we watch the brutality unfold as the camera unflinchingly captures every horrendous moment. Just when you think you've seen the worst that you could possibly see in a movie, the director does the unthinkable. In the film's most notorious scene, Noe plants the camera front and center in a sustained static shot, holding his audience hostage for an excruciating 10 full minutes, as a helpless Alex is sexually assaulted and brutally beaten into a coma.

The acting and cinematography in "Irreversible" are undeniably exceptional. Vincent Cassel and Monica Belluci are married in real life, and their love for each other is evident. If you ever get through the first 40 minutes of sheer horror, you will be treated to what could've been a well-crafted drama with comedic undertones. The interaction between Cassel, Bellucci and Dupontel is light-hearted and fun. The movie is made up of 12 scenes, each one a long, continuous take. Improvised conversations provide a heightened sense of realism. The camerawork in the beginning evokes a feeling of absolute headache-inducing chaos, but it expertly illustrates the frenzied desperation of Marcus and Pierre's search for the rapist.

In the end, the bright points in this film only serve to surround the horrifying scenes that Noe wants to inflict upon his audience. I don't recommend "Irreversible" to couples that are interested in a dramatic love story. Epileptics should also stay away, as the last exasperating minute of the film visually aggravates an already shell-shocked audience. The pretentious underlying theme of "time destroys everything," which was garishly forced upon us in bold letters at the end, didn't impress me too much. I recommend this movie to hard-core film buffs that want to witness virtuoso camera work and protracted, unbroken scenes of pure acting skill. "Irreversible" may also appeal to the raincoat-wearing perverts who will undoubtedly order uncut versions over the Web. If you're brave enough to see the film on the big screen, be warned that you will be witnessing the vilest images ever seen in a semi-mainstream movie. "Irreversible" makes the harrowing "Requiem for a Dream" seem like "Mary Poppins."

Filmfodder Grade: C+

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