La Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) took the world by surprise in the late 1950s with its defiance of what was referred to as Cinéma de Papa (fatherly cinema). The innovations in both technique and narration changed the face of cinema. The “New French Extreme” appeared in the early 2000s and like La Nouvelle Vague challenged the notion of French cinema that revolved around ideas and relegated the body to a metaphor for an idea. The body was now the central theme and fantasy that was once avoided was now openly embraced. All this is shown through acts of incredible violence and sexual debauchery. Irréversible is one of the more popular films of the movement and is commonly referred to as “the most shocking movie of all time”.
Like the majority of French films, the plot is of secondary importance and the representation takes precedence over what is being represented. At its heart it’s a “rape and revenge” tale gone wrong but it is the way that this is shown that is important. Like Memento chronological narration is thrown away as every scene is shown in reverse chronological order. One shot per scene with the transitions from scene to scene being made obvious for all. The later half of the film feels natural due to the semi-improvised dialogue and the mundane situations that put the whole beginning of the movie into context. While sloppy and a bit too meandering, the honesty and the naivety of the characters during these moments works very powerfully as a twisted climax that makes the horror of the beginning even more poignant as average individuals are pushed to their limits after the notorious rape scene.
From a technical point of view the use of sound and light is incredible as the soundtrack is full of barely noticeable background music consisting of low frequencies that create unease and mesh well with the gritty and dirty surroundings. The red strobe lights colours the violent scenes in a hellish tone. The camera twirls around often and is just as agitated as the characters on screen. During a scene in which a fire extinguisher is used to crush a man’s skull, the camera moves in complete synchronisation with the fire extinguisher in what is the greatest portrayal of violence on camera of all time. The viewer is forced to feel every hit as the camera stops just long enough to see the deteriorating condition of the man’s skull. In the infamous ten minute rape scene between a homosexual pimp and a woman that drives the non sexual character of rape to the forefront of this encounter, the camera sits completely still as a passerby quickly turns around instead of helping as the violence is shown in the most natural way possible.
Through the reverse chronological order, the viewer is exposed to character motivations and other elements in much more significant ways as these little devices allow what seems like an empty story to truly unfold in its harrowing and truly horrifying vision. Despite its flaws Irréversible is an excellent movie that needs to be watched at least once by every Hessian as it shows that the greatest horror is not that of psychotic killers, supernatural monsters or voodoo curses but the pain of irredeemable actions.
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