Release Date(s)2002 (April 26, 2021)
Studio(s)Mars Distribution (Indicator/Powerhouse Films)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A+
[Editor's Note: This is a REGION B locked Blu-ray release.]
Irreversible isn't simply a title; it's also a thesis statement, as well as a practical roadmap. What is done can't be undone. Like Memento before it, Gaspar Noe's 2002 film unfolds backwards, with each successive scene taking place prior to the preceding one. Unlike Memento, the reverse chronology in Irreversible isn't merely a gimmick to create a tantalizing puzzle for viewers; rather, it's an essential thematic component of the film. Of course, that didn't stop Noe from creating a re-edited chronological version in 2019, but ironically enough that cut feels gimmickier than the 2002 version. Worse, Noe’s intentions can feel muddled without the reinforcement given by the reversed structure; it runs the risk of making Irreversible appear to be a conventional rape/revenge drama, which is one thing that it absolutely is not.
Irreversible takes place in a series of a dozen tableaus, each of which appears to be a single unbroken shot (though they’re really composed of shorter takes stitched together in post-production). The prologue—which is actually the coda, when considered chronologically—features an appearance by Phillipe Nahon, the star of Noe’s debut feature I Stand Alone (aka Seul contre tous), who boldly states the film’s core theme: “Time destroys everything.” What follows is a shockingly violent sequence at a Parisian night club where Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) confront someone who they believe is responsible for the earlier rape and beating of Alex (Monica Bellucci). A few sequences later, that brutal rape is shown taking place in a single, agonizingly, unbroken shot which lets neither the camera nor the viewer look away from what’s happening. Then over the next few sequences, the relationships between the characters are finally defined, culminating with what is now an ironic look at the hope of new lives.
Having all of these elements unfold in reverse order emphasizes the fact that nothing which happens can change what happened previously. It also divorces cause from effect, since events occur out of context. That’s what differentiates Irreversible from other rape/revenge films: it deprives viewers of any opportunity for catharsis. The unflinchingly horrifying nature of Alex’s rape could make even the misplaced revenge that follows feel satisfying, but the reverse chronology prevents that from happening. Nothing feels justified, just inevitable.
Noe has always been a provocateur, and Irreversible is no exception. Along with filmmakers like Catherine Breillat, Alexandre Aja, and Virginie Despentes, he has been lumped into what critic James Quandt derisively termed “New French Extremity.” Aside from the questionable nature of that classification, Noe’s provocation has always been more of a formal nature than strictly in terms of content. Irreversible opens with the closing credits, appropriately scrolling backwards, but Noe immediately introduces an element of instability by having the camera rotate around them—an effect which marks much of the camerawork throughout the first half of the film. The unstable nature of the characters is reflected in the instability of the camera, and post-production effects are used to enhance that disequilibrium. Noe doesn’t allow anyone to find their footing, viewers included. It’s only as the film progresses backward in time, and everything becomes clearer, that the camerawork does as well. Yet as the film ends on its ironically hopeful note, the camera begins spinning out of control again, serving as a reminder that nothing can stop the tragic chain of events. Time will indeed destroy everything.
Noe and cinematographer Benoit Debie shot Irreversible in Super 16 using Aaton XTR Prod and A-Minima cameras—Debie handled the lighting while Noe served as camera operator. (According to some sources, including visual effects supervisor Rodolphe Chabrier, they also shot some Super 35 footage using Technovision cameras, but an American Cinematographer article about the film doesn’t mention that.) Everything was scanned to HD video for VFX and other post-production work at 2K resolution, and then re-output to 35 mm film for Irreversible’s theatrical release. The Theatrical Cut was restored by Noe in 2019 while working on the revised Straight Cut. It’s a fine presentation of the film, within the context of how it was produced. The image isn’t the sharpest, but it can’t be given the heavy digital manipulation done during post-production. The grain is prominent throughout, but it’s also uneven thanks to that digital work. The colors look natural when they should, though the lighting scheme frequently favors heavy red, yellow, orange, and green tones. It’s not pretty, but it is an accurate translation of Noe and Debie’s intentions.
Audio options include French 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with removable English subtitles. The 2.0 track appears to be true stereo with little in the way of encoded surround information, so the 5.1 track is preferable. Like the visuals, the sound design can be distressing at times. The earlier sequences in the film (chronologically, the later scenes) are accompanied by a sub-30hz bass tone which is designed to put viewers ill at ease, and it works as intended. The rest of the soundtrack supports the disorienting nature of the film, but the dialogue is still clear when it’s supposed to be, and Thomas Bangalter’s music is impactful.
The Powerhouse Films Blu-ray release of Irreversible is #200 in their Indicator series. This 2-Disc Limited Edition is Region B locked. The first disc contains the original 2002 Theatrical Cut along with the extras, and the second contains the 2019 Straight Cut along with a single trailer. Everything is housed in an individually numbered rigid slipcase which also includes an 80-page booklet and a two-sided foldout poster. The booklet contains essays and reviews by Anna Bogutskaya, Nick James, and Mark Kermode, as well as an overview of other critical responses to the film, a 2003 American Cinematographer article by Bob Davis, a 2013 BBFC Case Study on the film’s UK classification process, and a look at the creation of the Straight Cut. It also contains full credits for the film, the music videos, and the short film Intoxication, as well as an essay by Anthony Nield on actor/filmmaker Stéphane Drouot, who is featured in both Intoxication and Irreversible.
DISC ONE: THEATRICAL CUT
- Audio Commentary with Gaspar Noe
- The Irreversible Odyssey (HD – 43:20)
- NFT50 Q&A with Monia Belluci, Vincent Cassel, and Gaspar Noe (HD – 49:07)
- The BFI Masterclass with Gaspar Noe (HD – 90:06)
- Chabrier: SFX (Upscaled HD – 7:28)
- Heller-Nicholas: Time Destroys All Things (HD – 14:32)
- Deleted Scene (Upscaled HD – :37)
- Music Video: Stress (HD – 4:43)
- Music Video: Outrage (HD – 4:35)
- Uncut '18' Certificate Trailer (Upscaled HD – 1:41)
- Censored '15' Certificate Trailer (Upscaled HD – 1:45)
- Teaser #1 (Upscaled HD – :29)
- Teaser #2 (Upscaled HD – :19)
- Teaser #3 (Upscaled HD – :25)
- Teaser #4 (Upscaled HD – :45)
- Teaser #5 (Upscaled HD – :36)
- Teaser #6 (Upscaled HD – :39)
- Image Gallery (HD – 48 in all)
- Intoxication (2002) (Upscaled HD – 5:09)
DISC TWO: STRAIGHT CUT
- 2019 Venice Film Festival Trailer (HD – 1:41)
The commentary track (in French with English subtitles) was originally recorded for the 2003 DVD release of Irreversible. Noe states up front that he doesn’t like end credits, which is why he enjoyed putting them at the beginning of the film, and in such a warped fashion. He does say that he loves stroboscopic imagery and altered states of consciousness, which shouldn’t be surprising for fans of his work. He provides detailed information throughout about the technical challenges such as the lighting, camerawork, and special effects, as well as improvisatory nature of shooting. He also gives his reasoning behind the choices that he made. It’s a dense commentary track with Noe speaking continuously and in rapid-fire fashion, but there’s plenty to be gleaned from what he has to say.
The Irreversible Odyssey is a documentary (also in French with English subtitles) on the making of the film featuring interviews with Noe, Cassel, Dupontel, Bellucci, the producers, effects artists, and more. It covers the entire production and release of the film, including its reception at Cannes. Noe explains the genesis of the project, admitting that the structure was inspired by Memento as well as Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal, though he had never actually seen the latter. He had only written three pages for the script before it went into production, with each scene outlined in a few sentences, and the rest was improvised—the film was actually greenlit without a completed script or even a budget. When discussing the notorious rape sequence, everyone involved makes the point that they wanted to avoid any kind of a glamorized representation of the act like in films such as The Accused or Straw Dogs, and that Deliverance was more of a touchstone for them. The NFT50 Q&A is an audio-only session conducted by Hannah McGill at the National Film Theatre in October 2002, which took place after a screening of the film as a part of the BFI 50-year celebration of the theatre. It opens with the introduction prior to the screening, and then jumps to the Q&A afterward. Bellucci wasn’t available for that, so she only says a few brief words during the introduction, while the actual Q&A is just Noe and Cassel. The pair cover the production and release of the film, but with some different perspectives and stories than in the documentary—for instance, Noe discusses his cameo during the club scene, and Cassel admits to being intimidated by all of the improvisation. The BFI Masterclass is also audio only, this one conducted by David Cox at London's BFI Southbank in October 2009 during the London Film Festival. It’s a more expansive look at Noe as a person and his entire career (the discussion followed a screening of his film Enter the Void). He gives a lot of biographical information and explains his thinking behind various films from his 1991 short Carne through all the features that he had made up to that point, including Irreversible.
Chabrier: SFX (in French with English subtitles) is a far too brief conversation with visual effects supervisor Rodolphe Chabrier, who rushes through explaining how he reframed the 1.66:1 negative to 2.35:1, removed camera shadows, and added windows to the taxi (there were none on set so that the camera could freely move in and out). He describes the rape sequence in a bit more detail—Noe’s preferred take had damage which had to be removed, and the observer in the background was comped in from a different take. (A certain anatomical detail was also added digitally.) He spends the most time on the brutal killing at the beginning of the film, which to this day remains one of the best marriages of practical and digital effects to produce a nauseatingly seamless result. Time Destroys All Things is a visual essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study. She compares the Straight Cut to the Theatrical Cut, drawing a contrast between the rape/revenge of the former, and the revenge/rape of the latter. She correctly notes that as the film runs different directions, so do our feelings. She also spends time discussing the film’s relationship to the real-world threat of sexual violence. The deleted scene is a brief shot of Alex in the hospital, while the music videos feature two different tracks from Thomas Bangalter’s score accompanied by swirling camerawork shot by Noe—the first set in the infamous red tunnel, and the second in Marcus and Alex’s apartment. Intoxication is a short film that Noe made in 2002 with filmmaker Stephane Drouot, who appears in the opening of Irreversible opposite Phillipe Nahon. It’s a short but revealing portrait of the man, who is seen taking his HIV medication at the beginning—he would eventually die from AIDS complications in 2012. Also in French with English subtitles.
There’s a single Easter egg on Disc One: Creuser des caisses (2:04), a featurette which identifies all of the album covers in the background of the apartment at the end of the film. Appropriately enough, one of them is the soundtrack for Live and Let Die.
While Irreversible bears only indirect resemblance to Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi’s Baise-moi, both films interrogate the rape/revenge genre in ways which will be uncomfortable for many viewers. Literally so with Irreversible—the sound design can induce physical distress, and the visuals could potentially trigger seizures. Baise-moi approaches the subject from the angle of understandable female rage, while Irreversible looks at if from the point of view of misplaced male rage. They’re both challenging films, but in very different ways. Caveat emptor, but this is an essential release and will likely remain the definitive edition of the film for years to come.
- Stephen Bjork
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