dir. Noe

Opens Fri March 28

Cinema 21

Be warned: watching the first 45 minutes of Irreversible is akin to watching Faces of Death. The camera swirls around, scaling buildings and swooping down, making you feel as if you're going to vomit. The action is unexplained as two men rush around frantically, trying to find a hardcore gay club called the Rectum, and then once inside trying to find a man called Le Tenia. Horrible, throbbing techno music blares in the background as the two men search room after room--all dimly lit in dark red, all filled with sex acts involving black hoods and screaming.

Once they do find the man they think is Le Tenia, the action becomes even more horrifying as one of the men's arms is broken and he is nearly raped. His friend then reacts by bashing in the assailant's face with a fire extinguisher, resulting in one of the goriest murder scenes I've ever witnessed. After all this, expect to feel like you've been beaten up.

But it's not over yet. The story is unfolding in reverse order, and the nine-minute, one-shot rape/beating of the beautiful Monica Bellucci is at the center of it.

After (or before) the rape, the violence is over, the camera movement calms down, and you drift into a film about young lovers that is strikingly realistic and sweet. Yet sickeningly tainted by what you've seen before.

While Irreversible is exceptionally hard to watch, it is, for those with a curiosity for the base and demented, entirely worth seeing. Director/writer Gasper Noe's undertaking is audacious and wholly disturbing, but takes you on such a complete mental and physical ride that you might actually enjoy it.

Granted, the film does cop a few clichés: the rape victim is extremely beautiful, and the rapist is pure evil. But on the whole, the characters' subtlety and imperfection make them seem like real people, and their circumstances seem like a sincere and violent tragedy.