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Real-life couple Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel (the French equivalent to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) have had quite an interesting time making movies over the last decade or so. Together they have made some very varied films back home in France, from the frenetic, ultra-violent actioner Doberman, to the drama L’Apartment, the superior period-set martial-arts adventure Le Pacte des Loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf) and the flawed but ultra-realistic spy thriller Agents Secrets (which we have yet to see outside France). Separately, they have also done some interesting work in Hollywood, with Bellucci taking roles in big movies like the Matrix sequels, the solid Bruce Willis action-war movie, Tears of the Sun, the imaginative Terry Gilliam piece Brothers Grimm and the upcoming Clive Owen thriller Shoot 'Em Up. Cassel has also had a bit of relatively prominent US work, in movies like the thriller Derailed, again with Clive Owen, and the disappointing Ocean’s Twelve. Easily their most controversial collaboration, however, was the Gasper Noe-directed drama, Irreversible, now infamous for its nauseating camerawork, sickeningly graphic violence and hauntingly long rape sequence. It is not a pleasant watch, to say the least, but that does not mean that it is not a good movie.

Irreversible: Collector's Edition

Feature


Told in reverse order (as if you were playing a movie, chapter by chapter, from the end back to the beginning), Irreversible is the story of three French friends: couple Alex and Marcus and their friend, Alex’s ex-boyfriend, Pierre, whose lives are torn apart by a seemingly random act of extreme sexual and physical violence. It starts with the two men, Marcus and Pierre, voyaging through what seems like hell—a dingy gay S&M club called Rectum—searching for revenge. The inconceivable violence that they inflict, and that is inflicted upon them is somewhat explained as the story progresses—backwards. We see, in the single most graphic rape scene most audiences will have ever come across, Alex get anally raped and beaten practically to death in an underpass, and realise what sent Marcus and Pierre on their desperate mission to find the perpetrator. The story does not end there, however, as things are unbelievably made even worse when you come to realise the life that the three friends had together, the love between Alex and Marcus and their true happiness just days before their world was destroyed.

The director, Gasper Noe, has taken arguably the most beautiful woman in the world—the French/Italian Monica Bellucci—and subjected her character to one of the most unpleasantly memorable scenes in cinema history. With decreasingly frenetic camerawork (that caused many viewers to walk out after feeling sick)—the camera spinning and rocking wildly for almost the entire first third of the movie—he throws audiences off-balance, compounding the feelings about the horror evolving around the characters. Arguably over-stylised (the spinning camera movement is actually physically difficult for your eyes to endure), the dark, harrowing and haunting movie will stick in the minds of most who sit through it to the end, and marks a talking point for many movie discussions.

Irreversible: Collector's Edition
The reverse storyline is more than just a gimmick, played off in a way that is actually more easy to follow than, for example, Christopher Nolan’s flawed but solid thriller Memento, and in a way that adds to the depth and gravity of the loss you feel over the horrendous act of violence that is committed. We do not even get any sense of ultimate closure, as the shock identity of the rapist is revealed. Irreversible, right up until the frighteningly ‘happy’ warm ending, is a horror to watch, one of the most unpleasant—but compelling—movies that I have ever seen. In fact, it was one that I just never wanted to see ever again, but forced myself to endure for the purposes of reviewing this new release. In a way, it is a credit to the director that he has made a movie that leaves such an indelible impression on anybody who beholds it, but this is never going to come as a movie that has the potential for multiple viewings.

Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci are absolutely tremendous as the beautiful couple, with Cassel’s energy charging both the dark opening sequences and the latter, happier scenes and Bellucci’s unquestionable radiance and elegance permeating every shot with her in it and making the horrific rape all the more devastating. It was a very brave film for the couple to make—after all they have the same following in France as Pitt and Jolie have in the States—and this kind of gritty, controversial adult drama will no doubt mark their careers for years to come, in both a good and bad way. If you can get through the sickening camerawork at the outset, the horrific violence and the daunting realisation of what was lost and what can never be regained, most will find this an unforgettable piece of cinematic history. As the nightmare slowly descends into the dream that came before it, so does this movie evolve into one of the most powerful, stylish films of all time, on either side of the Atlantic.

Irreversible: Collector's Edition

Video


Irreversible comes with a decent 2.20:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. As you will probably have guessed, the rather unusual ratio denotes a rather unusual filming technique—here what we have is a movie shot in Super 16, then edited into 2.20:1 in post-production, so they could add plenty of digital enhancements (some of that jerky camera movement was actually done in post-production). Still, the detail is generally good, with some softness and grain—as you would expect given the format—but nothing that seems particularly unintentional given the style of the production. The varied colour scheme is well presented, with lots of shadowing and red hues at the outset, warm oranges for the later sequences and fresh tones towards the end. Print defects were apparently present but have been largely removed digitally in post-production and the transfer is thus generally very clean.

Audio


This new release now boasts both a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 track as well as a superior DTS 5.1 effort (we also have standard Dolby Digital 2.0 for completeness). Obviously all of these audio offerings are in the original French language, with dialogue presented clearly and coherently from the frontal array and the effects (mostly atmospheric nuances, but with plenty of breaking bones) given lots of room to breathe across the surrounds. The score is almost as disorientating as the visuals, particularly at the outset, and rattles its way through your living room with even a little bass—albeit more prominent on the DTS alternative. The English subtitles seem clear and accurate and certainly make sense.

Irreversible: Collector's Edition

Extras


Of course, this is a collector's edition from Tartan so it should come brimming with new extra features. Originally purported to be a two-disc release, we have since dropped down to a single disc, with the rumoured deleted scenes also not present. I would not mind so much, but even the press release—and the very menu—is inaccurate. This edition was supposed to have a commentary not only by the director Gasper Noe, but also the two leads, Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel. Now this would have been a truly revealing offering, as the real-life couple could have expanded on the effects that making a movie as harrowing as this had on them personally. Unfortunately, despite the advertising, DVD technical specification and the very extras menu itself—which states 'Director and Cast Commentary', this is strictly a solo affair, with just Noe present.

Still, despite the disappointment, it is an interesting listen—or rather read—given that it is subtitled. Noe talks almost constantly throughout, explaining his ideas behind the opening credits, to the overloaded soundtrack he used at the start, to the shots that were made by the second unit director and not him. He talks about the film's original title— Time Destroy All Things'—and his ideas behind the camerawork (the filming gets less chaotic as the movie goes backwards and the story gets less chaotic), explaining how much he likes disorientating the viewer with spinning cameras and strobe lighting, and going on to talk a great deal about the performances of Bellucci and Cassel, the former for dictating the way the rape scene went and the latter for his energy and believability (he describes him as often in a demented trance). Overall it is an interesting listen, but a big let down for the lack of the two main stars who were supposed to be involved.

Irreversible: Collector's Edition
Next we have an SFX featurette which lasts seven minutes and is narrated by Rudolph Chabrier, the effects supervisor. He talks about several key sequences (particularly focusing on the opening club scene), revealing some of the subtle effects used that many viewers may not have picked up on. The breakdown of the effects is interesting enough to hear here, particular when we see the rotoscope and animation work done for the fire extinguisher sequence, but it is a shame that there are no split-screen offerings as it is sometimes really difficult to identify the differences that he is talking about.

‘Intoxication’ is a five minute short film directed by Gasper Noe, which basically features a guy sitting in his kitchen, popping pills and rambling about being HIV positive and expressing his artistic thoughts. Any short film which is basically composed of a single diatribe and includes the word discombobulated (albeit translated from the French equivalent) is of little interest to me, and seems—frankly—a bit pretentious. But still, you can see Noe's stark, realistic style.

Under the respective titles of 'Stress' and 'Outrage', there are also two music videos that Gasper Noe directed, both for tracks by Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter. The music will be recognisable in terms of content to anybody familiar with Daft Punk's earlier work (particularly their fantastic first album, Da Funk), but the visuals are almost straight out of Irreversible—the first being a spinning camera voyage down the unforgettable underpass from the movie and the second being a spinning camera house party sequence. I'm not sure whether they are a particular benefit to those who want to have a good impression of the director, as all they left me with was a feeling that I wanted to revisit the albums Daft Punk and that all Noe was good for was spinning a camera in a disorientating fashion. Lastly we get the teaser and theatrical trailer, which adopt the tactic of just blasting viewers with images and lettering from the movie.

Irreversible: Collector's Edition

Overall


So Tartan’s second take of the notorious, landmark French drama Irreversible is a mixed-bag affair. Whilst the video is decent enough and the audio is certainly superior to the previous release, the only significant extra—the commentary—is not really enough to justify a double-dip. Things might have been very different had there been some participation from the two leads, Bellucci and Cassel, as promised, but as it is this is only a marginally superior ‘Collector’s Edition’. Still, for those who don’t have or haven’t seen this powerful movie, it is definitely the definitive version to pick up.


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