Irreversible (Collector's Edition) Review

There’s not really a lot one can say about Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible that hasn’t already been said. If you’ve already seen the film, such is its impact that you will already have formed an opinion that is unshakable and, regardless of whether that is positive or negative, it’s unlikely to change on subsequent viewings simply because Irreversible, in most cases, is the kind of film that neither inspires nor benefits from repeated viewings. Even if you haven’t seen Irreversible before, its reputation will precede it due to the controversial nature of its subject matter and the manner in which it is portrayed and you’ll most likely know whether you want to or even be capable of enduring another disturbing excursion into the world of Gaspar Noé.

The subject, for anyone who hasn’t yet heard of the film, is a very simple one - it’s a revenge movie. After the violent rape of a woman, Alex (Monica Bellucci), in an underpass, her boyfriend Marcus (Vincent Cassell) and his friend Pierre (Albert Dupontel) hunt down her attacker at a gay S&M club, where they intend to exact a violent revenge. The film then moves backwards to show the events of the day that lead up to this event. Like Noé’s previous film, the remarkable, highly-stylised and controversial Seul Contre Tous, the director forces the viewer to experience and endure something they would much rather not see through a compelling filmmaking technique. Noé, as writer, director and editor, uses everything at his disposal as a filmmaker to achieve this effect - music, sound, lighting, shadows and a weaving camera movement that jostles around, bumping, probing and revealing. Right from the opening titles, pounded out onto the screen, the film never lets up on this flowing rhythm of seemingly unedited takes that never cut away, never giving the viewer the opportunity to look away – much as they might like to.

Irreversible consequently has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer (or a fire extinguisher) applied to the skull, but that is precisely what the director wants the viewer to experience. Everything is calculated precisely to achieve this effect, to shock, offend and set your pulse racing - from the racist, homophobic and misogynistic taunts scattered throughout right down to the sheer unflinching brutality of the imagery that includes a violent murder scene and one of the most harrowing and utterly unwatchable rape scenes ever portrayed on the cinema screen.

But let’s not pretend that Irreversible has any kind of moral message or philosophical ambiguity. Despite the artiness of the film’s reverse structure, this is no Michael Haneke-style conceit to force the viewer to confront their own responses towards violent imagery with all the implications that has on the society we live in. It’s a revenge movie and consequently it operates on the same level as a good horror movie. It’s there to shock you, to push buttons and produce a rush of blood to the head on a purely sensory level in a way that you are unlikely to experience in real life (if you are fortunate). The film should therefore need no rationale or moral purpose that will distance the viewer from what they are seeing. Noé makes that happen and he does it extremely well.

What then is the purpose of the reverse structure? Though subsequent depth, characterisation and meaning is conveyed later in the film – principally between the two male characters and their respective attitudes towards cerebral rational actions and those motivated by base animal instincts – the overturning of these concepts could just as effectively been made in a conventional forward-moving timeline. By reversing the structure however, like Christopher Nolan’s Memento, the film divorces cause from effect and puts you simply in the head of someone who is acting irrationally, without premeditation and without any consideration for whether their actions are right or wrong. It’s a necessary device to remove any rationale or justification from the act of revenge that takes place. You can subsequently analyse it and make justifications either for or against what takes place, but the outcome is irreversible.

Irreversible: Collector’s Edition is released in the UK by Tartan. The disc is in PAL format and is not region coded.

There’s a certain amount of grain, flatness and lack of definition in the colours and contrast balance, much of which may be down to the dark and gritty nature the film, which was largely filmed on handheld 16mm using natural light. There are however macro-compression artefacts and cross colouration is visible occasionally in backgrounds. Neither present much of a problem for the majority of the film, but can be clearly seen in the tiles of the metro station in the scene where Alex, Marcel and Pierre are waiting on the train. Some edge enhancement might also be visible here. Generally however, the image is clear, stable and well coloured, with no marks or scratches. I haven’t seen the previous R2 release from Tartan, but I can’t imagine there is much of an improvement here.

The main benefit of this new Collector’s Edition release is the inclusion of a DTS mix for the film. Again however, it doesn’t improve considerably upon the Dolby Digital 5.1 track also included here. The soundtrack is strong and powerful however, and this comes across effectively, but it is not an overly showy mix, remaining mainly front based, with little if any use of the rear speakers.

English subtitles are provided in a clear white font and are optional.

Commentary by Gaspar Noé
The cover indicates a commentary by Noé, Bellucci and Cassel, but only Noé seems to be present here. Irreversible is not a film you would imagine would benefit greatly from a commentary track and that proves to be the case here. Noé however keeps the track busy covering all the aspects of the making, pointing out how it was shot and put together, as well as how much is improvised. The commentary is in French with English subtitles.

SFX (7:12)
Special Effects supervisor Rudolphe Chabrier presents a short featurette giving some indication of the amount of morphing and 3-D effects that added to give the film its seamless fluidity.

Short Film: ‘Intoxication’ (4:55)
Billed as a short film by Gaspar Noé, this takes the form of the actor and filmmaker Stephane Drouot talking about himself to a static camera.

‘Stress’ (4:31)
Billed as a music video by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, this really just makes use of some test footage of the whirling camera in the subway passage.

‘Outrage’ (4:23)
The second ‘music video’ uses footage of the party scene, with music again by Thomas Bangalter.

Teaser and Trailer
Six short Teasers (3:09) present several of the scenes from the film, while the Trailer (1:42) is a more dynamic representation of the film’s content.

There is nothing deep or meaningful about Irreversible, but Noé’s direction is impressive and there are indeed vicarious thrills to be experienced in the film. Moral questions do not and should not come into it, neither in the actions of the plot, nor in the responsibility of the filmmaker towards the viewer, nor in the viewer with regards to their own responses. It’s a film, with actors, and should no more have to justify what it portrays or the individual responses it is likely to provoke than any other horror, gore or violent action movie. Those likely to be offended however would be advised to keep well away - this is extreme filmmaking and intended to challenge the viewer. Tartan’s latest release of Irreversible however falls well short of what would be expected from a Collector’s Edition. It should at the very least have noticeably improved video and audio from a Standard Edition, ideally with the film given a separate disc from the extra features. That’s not the case here, although the additional commentary might justify an upgrade for the few people who feel able to watch the film more than once.

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Last updated: 25/06/2018 01:31:47

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