I dare you to watch this film.
When it showed at the 2002 Cannes, 200 of the 2,400 people that were in the audience walked out. The filmmaker takes this as a point of pride. There is a sound present during the first thirty minutes of the film that is calculated to give you a headache and make you nauseous. There is a rape scene which is the set piece in the middle of the film that lasts for fifteen or twenty minutes without an apparent edit. To say that it is shocking and disturbing would be an understatement.
It is also stunning, brilliant, astonishing, and some of the most compelling film making I have seen in several years.
Boy, the French sure take it to another level. We soft focus so much of the sexuality in our films. We splatter blood all over the violence, sever a head or two, and stick the gun right in the face of the audience. And now we do it in three dimensions.
The French, at least Gaspar Noé, the director of Irreversible, just give it to an actor of wildly contained energy, like Vincent Cassel, or astonishing beauty and unexpected intelligence, like Monica Bellucci, or one like Jo Prestia, whose brutal lust is carved into a face that looks it has been beaten since it was a boy but still retains the rage and revenge that such repeated beatings would warrant.
Trust the actors, turn them loose, and try to keep up. Noé apparently started with a five-page synopsis of his story and they improvised the rest.
The film happens in reverse. We see the end first and proceed, in what appears to be uncut sequences, scene by scene to the beginning, which ends the film. The falling, spinning, rotating camera, which never stops moving in the first thirty minutes of the film, along with the sound I mentioned earlier, perfectly mimic and transfer to the audience. It is the feeling of out-of-control violence culminating at the end of a night of drugs, wine, parties, sex, violence and revenge.
Why would you want to put yourself through it? Because it is a unique and beautiful vision. Because it is masterfully constructed. Because Vincent Cassel is the most vital actor I have seen since the young DeNiro. And because it is an experience that you won’t get anywhere else. It is a little like having a little boy piss on your shoes to get your attention, but he is a tremendously clever and creative and serious little boy, and giving him your attention is well worth the piss on your shoes.
Actor Vincent Cassel also stars in Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1, both of which are part of the Milwaukee Film Festival. Mesrine: Killer Instinct plays at the Oriental Theatre on Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 9:45 p.m. and Thursday, Sept. 30 at 5 p.m. Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 plays at the Oriental Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 30 at 9:45 p.m. and Friday, Oct. 1 at 9:30 p.m.