Irréversible is an absolute classic in the making. Even though it received mixed reviews upon its initial release, the importance of the film is taking definite forms and I believe it's fair to say that Gaspar Noé (Enter The Void) made one of the landmark films of the past decade. The best thing is that the film has lost almost none, if any, of its original impact. It's still one of the purest, most stylish and visceral shockers out there and deserves to be watched at least once.
Categorizing Irréversible is a bit tricky. Because of its two most infamous scenes the film is often regarded as a horror film, but it shares very little of the genre's typical elements. Sure there's is one revolting gore scene and the rape scene halfway through is rightfully regarded one of the most shocking moments in cinematic history, but Irréversible is essentially a revenge drama that just happens to repulse beyond the means of most horror films out there. If you go in expecting a typical horror film you're bound to be disappointed.
Another one of the film's selling points is its reverse nature. The film starts with the ending (you'll see the credits of the film running backwards) and scene by scene works its way to the beginning of the story. The concept is not new and is of course reminiscent of Nolan's Memento, but the intended effect is completely different. Where Memento is a simple puzzle, a brain tease, Irréversible uses its reverse structure to mess up the viewer's emotional state, making "the good guys" look bad and giving the supposedly happy end an extremely wry aftertaste.
The film starts when Marcus and Pierre barge into an underground gay club. They rough their way through the bar looking for a guy called The Tapeworm. When they finally catch up with him Pierre flips out and beats the guy's face (literally) to a pulp. From there on each new scene warps back in time, retelling the story of how Marcus and Pierre ended up in the club. While at first Marcus and Pierre appear to be real assholes, the story behind their aggressive assault clears up a lot and slowly but surely we start to identify with them.
Irréersible was shot by the brilliant Benoît Debie (Vinyan, Calvaire). The cinematography is conceptually strong, starting off as a manic flurry of rotating camera movements, slowly evolving and quieting down, eventually halting completely during the key scene of the film. The film is edited in such a way that all the separate scenes (all 8-to-10 minute long-takes) merge into one continuous shot, including some very nifty camera tricks from time to time (like going through windows or tumbling out of buildings).
The soundtrack too is tailored to perfection. The film was scored by Thomas Bangalter, 50% of Daft Punk. The music here is a lot darker than his usual Daft Punk output though, starting off with a track specifically made to make the audience feel nauseous. There is a strong selection of memorable tracks that define the film and the entire score provides a superb baseline for the film's visuals to flourish. Together they present one of the most impressive (yet unrelenting) audiovisual assaults produced in the past decade.
I can't find anything bad to say about the acting either. You may notice that there was a lot of improv and freewheeling when it came to the dialogues, but it ultimately makes for a very real and natural atmosphere. Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci are the perfect couple (it probably helped that back then they were a real-life couple too), which goes a long way to help succeed the later scenes in the film. There is something so extraordinary real about their characters that it helps you to forget there is hardly any actual depth given to their characters. Albert Dupontel too is strong and I don't think I've ever seen him in such a daring role before, playing the perfect third wheel.
Noé's Irréversible is no easy film to watch. From the nightmarish descent into the gay club to the excruciating harsh rape scene, there is a constant sense of unapologetic and dry reality that makes it so much nastier than the worst horror film out there. Even when the air clears up during the later scenes, knowing what is about the come (ie the scenes you just watched) will leave a very wry and uncomfortable feeling. Still, Noé shows that he is perfectly capable of shooting beautiful and peaceful moments too. The scene were Cassel and Bellucci wake up is without a doubt one of the most natural and pleasant ones I've ever seen in any film out there.
Look beyond Irréversible's most infamous scenes and you'll find a conceptually perfect film, an audiovisual tour de force that leaves a strong emotional fingerprint on all those watching it. It's not a fun film to watch, but it's so damn powerful that I consider it one of the most impressive films I've ever seen. It's true horror, a film that comes a little too close to reality to be watched as a mere genre film. Gaspar Noé is one of the most interesting directors working in film today and Irréversible should have been his ultimate masterpiece, only I think he outdid himself with Enter The Void. Apart from that, an absolute must see.