Perhaps the quintessential exemplar of New French Extremism, Irreversible amazed and outraged audiences across the world upon its release in 2002 with its harrowing scenes of rape and violence. Now Gaspar Noé’s nauseating, thrilling, ingenious masterwork returns in a new 4K restoration, both in its original Theatrical Cut and a potent new Straight Cut, assembled in 2020, that re-orders the film’s reverse narrative into a linear chronology.
Indicator presents Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible in a new limited edition 2-disc set. The set presents two versions of the film: the original theatrical version on the first dual-layer disc, and the “straight cut” (the film playing out in order of events) on the second single-layer disc. Both films are given 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes and are presented in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The set is a UK release and locked to region B. Viewers in North America will require players that can playback region B content.
I had the old Canadian Alliance-Atlantis DVD, which I’m pretty sure was a PAL-to-NTSC conversion, and it was one of the ugliest looking DVD presentations in my collection. Indicator’s high-definition presentation is a significant step up in just about every way, but it's still hampered by how the film was ultimately completed. Irreversible was shot on film, 16mm in fact, but the elements were digitally scanned (presumably in 2K) and then the film was edited together digitally, the digital effects then applied. The finished product is ultimately a digital file, limited by the technology of the time (35mm films prints were then struck from the digital file for theatrical distribution). Because of this, Indicator has no choice but to use what is essentially an older digital master, supplied to them by StudioCanal, since it would be hard (and expensive I can only assume) to create a newer one: not only would a new scan be required, but all of the editing and digital effects would have to be redone! In place of an all-new scan it appears StudioCanal has “remastered” the film, though based on the results of those older scans.
For what it is the end results of theatrical cut aren’t all that bad, and in fact I’d say the film looks decent enough, and again, a substantial improvement over the Alliance-Atlantis DVD. But it is sadly still laced with artifacts. The film is very grainy, unsurprisingly, and in motion it doesn’t look too bad, but the grain can still come off rather blocky, lending a noisy look that can lace over the image, particularly in the darker shots, which there are plenty of. The reds that pop up in the incredibly dark “opening” of the film can look a bit noisy around the edges at times, and some of the quick movements show some digital motion blur, not aided by the camera constantly waving around. It’s clearly dated, and those dated aspects still pop through.
Having said all of that, though, I’m still generally happy with it. I had only seen the film a couple of times prior through that awful DVD, so it was “nice” to actually see the film in a cleaner, less choppy presentation that wasn't full of ghosting, interlacing and what-not. Details are also far better, with more being visible in the film's club sequence compared to before on the DVD. Colours also look really nice, even if some of the reds, again, can be a bit noisy.
The “straight-cut” also looks the same, though this isn’t too surprising: I would guess they used the same digital files to create the new edit since that would be substantially cheaper, allowing Noé and his editots to just rearrange everything.
In the end, no, it’s not what some would hope for I’m sure, but there are still some strong aspects to it. Ultimately, how the film was assembled is what is hindering the high-definition presentation here.
Indicator includes a PCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack and DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack, both in French. I ended up only listening to the 5.1 soundtrack and it pretty much meets expectations.
The film has a lot going on audibly, barraging the viewer consistently throughout the film. There is a lot of screaming, a lot of banging, a lot of everything, and it’s mixed aggressively through all of the channels. There’s plenty of stuff whirling around viewers, shooting past them, coming down on them. Voices move between the speakers depending on where they are placed in the scene, and the same can be said for the background effects. Even the film’s calmer scenes show off an active mix, with appropriate background effects or soft music sneaking up behind the viewer. The track also features an intense amount of range, pumping in plenty of lower and higher frequencies, the sub-woofer being called in to handle a lot, especially in the club sequence that showcases intense lower frequencies. The sound design of this sequence is supposed to be nauseating, and in that regard the soundtrack does an amazing job.
It's loud, and at times a bit much, but it is mixed well, and will show off your sound system.
Indicator’s set packs on several supplements, releasing the most stacked edition for the film yet, appearing to port most content over from the various previous editions released around the world. The big addition (and I’m guessing exclusive to this limited edition, at least for the time being) would be the inclusion of the “straight cut,” found on the second single-layer disc and accompanied by a 2019 trailer for it.
As most more than likely know, the film’s revenge story is told in reverse, starting with our protagonists committing their revenge, the story then working its way to the calmer moments earlier in the day that lead up to the "climax." The “straight cut” is re-edited to tell the story in order, so this version starts where the theatrical version “ends.”
It's an interesting edit, though feels more experimental in nature and somewhat neuters what made the original film work in at least one way. Whatever one’s feelings about the theatrical cut (and all criticisms against it are certainly valid) it seems a lot of people still recognize the tragic nature of the story, which the reverse timeline manages to hit home better: there was something about the film starting with the most horrific parts of the story and working back to the “normal” moments, showing what ends up being lost. There are also a number of other tragic reveals that have a harder impact thanks to the original cut's reverse timeline, like details around the character that our protagonists end up targeting and another revelation involving Bellucci's character.
The booklet included with the set features a quote from Roger Ebert on how the film has you sit through the film's repulsive violence early and then forces you to reflect on it, all due to how its narrative is structured. The theatrical version starts off violent and horrific, getting that all out of the way, and then works itself back in time, slowly turning sad and tragic. This new cut starts out on a happy note, and then works itself to the violent and horrific conclusion, with barely enough time to reflect on the horrible tragedy of what has happened; the film immediately moves to focus Cassel's character quest for revenge, his nasty, hateful personality coming front and center as everything just goes to hell. There's no time to reflect on anything and it changes the film a great deal.
Of the two versions I still feel the theatrical version is the “better” one, yet I still think this alternate version is worth viewing (after watching the theatrical version, of course) if only out of curiosity and to see the how the film’s themes and ultimate impact change in the editing. It’s an interesting experiment, but in no way replaces the original edit.
(This edit is also a little shorter, but I didn’t notice anything of importance missing. I think the trims were primarily done during scene transitions, which of course needed to be redone since the order is now different.)
The remaining supplements are all found on the first disc with the theatrical version of the film. Carried over from other editions for the film (though oddly not found on the U.S. DVD) is an audio commentary featuring director Gaspar Noé, in French with optional English subtitles. The first time I played back the track I was somewhat surprised by how “matter-of-fact” Noé is, me, for whatever reason, expecting something a bit crazier, maybe even pretentious, I guess. But no, Noé’s track is very technical and to the point, going over just about every detail behind making the film, explaining the camera movements, the editing process, improvisations (it sounds as though all of the dialogue was improvised by the actors), and the heavy amount of CGI. It’s this latter detail that really surprised me at the time as a lot of the CGI ends up being invisible, used as a way just to clean up some of the seams. I knew the film’s opening beating was partially done with computer effects, and I always assumed the transitions between scenes were completed using CGI, but CGI was also used in subtle ways throughout the entire film, Noé digitally altering reflections in windows, changing the lighting, and even adding a person into the background of one shot, plus much more. Using computer effects to alter a film in ways like this is far more common today, to the point of blending performances from different takes into a new single shot; Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, most of David Fincher’s recent films, have a CGI effect of some sort in just about every scene. I recall, at the time, all of this just blowing me away and for that I was always quite fond of this commentary.
The commentary ended up being the most comprehensive feature around the film's production on that disc, as most of the other material consisted of short featurettes (all of which appear to have been carried over here) that didn't get into the same amount of detail. Indicator remedies that by packing on even more material, both new and archival, going even further into the film's development. Newer is the 43-minute 2020 making-of documentary Irreversible Odyssey, featuring interviews with Noé, actors Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel, among others. Noé does get into how the project came to be in the commentary but this one (along with a couple of other features) fleshes it out a bit more. Noé had actually wanted to do Enter the Void but couldn’t get it off the ground, so he then looked to make a quick film (more than likely with graphic sex in an attempt to make the film that Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut promised but wasn’t, in his eyes) until getting involved with Bellucci and Cassel, a couple too famous to even attempt something like that. What’s interesting is the film really appears to have been just made up to make use of the two in a short time due to previous engagements (Bellucci was tied to The Matrix Reloaded), so the film was conceived to be made up in long master shots and then told in reverse. From there the documentary goes over the shoot and then the lengthy post-production before recalling the controversies around its release, particularly its reception at Cannes.
It's a good documentary in covering the film's making, and it, combined with the couple of archival audio tracks Indicator has dug up, manage to probably better the commentary. In the NFT50 Q&A from 2003 (featuring Noé, Bellucci, and Cassel), recorded for a screening of the film, the three touch again on how the film came together, its controversies, and its hectic production. They also touch on some of the CGI additions in the film, including a penis that was added in later. The group also take questions from the audience, leading to a few interesting answers from Noé, like how he had initially walked out of the films Straw Dogs and Texas Chainsaw Massacre because of their respective content (though it sounds as if he did eventually see them in full). The audio-only feature runs 49-minutes and plays over a black screen.
The other audio-only feature is 90-minutes’ worth of excerpts from a BFI Master Class featuring Noé, recorded in 2009 and around the time of Enter the Void’s release. This ends up being more along the lines of a career retrospective, Noé going over his early life and the influence of his artist father (and friends) before he works his way through each of his films up that point, eventually taking questions from the audience. Not surprisingly the audience seems more interested in Irreversible, so most of the questions and answers at least focus around elements from that film. This feature too plays over a black screen.
The release also ports a number of archival features found on Canadian edition, starting with a 7-minute featurette around the film’s special effects, offering a look at a number of special effects shots and how they were constructed and layered, with a heavier focus on the beating scene. There is also a 37-second deleted scene, which is a quick shot of Bellucci’s character in the hospital. You’ll also find two features classified as “music videos,” one entitled “Stress,” the other “Outrage.” Both appear to be music samples playing over (b-roll?) material shot for the film, the first featuring a spinning frame in the film’s central tunnel, the latter from the apartment party. Noé’s short film Intoxication also appears here, which features director Stéphane Drouot talking about his life with AIDS and the difficulty in getting films made.
Indicator does also include their own exclusive feature as well, a new video essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas called Time Destroys All Things, running 14-minutes. The essay covers the film from a few different angles, with a focus on its use of sexual violence and the sort of catch-22 that comes with trying to recreate it on screen: you risk making it exploitive by showing it, but you also risk suggesting it's "not that bad" by not. She also addresses criticisms brought against the film and looks at how the two different cuts create two very different takes on the subject matter. It’s short but a very well put together essay.
The disc then closes with a lengthy gallery full of production photos and marketing art (there is also a very graphic photo showcasing make-up effects). There is then a collection of trailers, censored and uncut, along with some teasers.
The limited edition also comes with a fold-out poster, featuring one of the original 2002 posters on one side and the 2020 “straight-up” poster on the other (appropriately, the two posters appear to present the same moment from different perspectives). The set also comes with a 76-page booklet. The booklet features a number of articles and essays around the film, starting off with one by Anna Bogutskaya on the film as a classic tragedy, followed by the reprinting of a 2003 article by Bob Davis for American Cinematographer, which looks at the film’s photography from a purely technical perspective, referencing quotes from Noé. In a nice touch, Indicator also adds some footnotes to clarify some aspects of the article. Next is a reprint of a 2013 BBFC case study on the film, followed by a collection of reviews around the film, which are, unsurprisingly, mixed, though the more reflective takes (like Ebert’s) end up being the ones that stick out. Following that is a reprint of a “for and against” article from a 2003 edition of Sight & Sound, featuring Nick James’ and Mark Kermode’s opposing views on the film. The booklet then closes with a note on the “straight cut” along with brief notes about the music videos and the short film Intoxication, the latter written by Anthony Nield. The booklet has been padded a bit to give it length, the font larger than normal, though surprisingly the photos are kept to a minimum. Despite that, tt’s still another of Indicator’s typically great booklets. (Pre-orders also came with a small recreation of the original press book.)
All-in-all, Indicator has put together about as comprehensive a release for the film as one could expect, offering an incredibly in-depth look into the film’s production, some of Noé’s other work, and addressing the various controversies that came up around the film. Everything is very much worth going through.
Though the presentation is hampered a bit by a dated scan of the original elements, Indicator’s release still does an admirable job presenting (two versions of) the film and they also pack their edition with a wealth of terrific supplementary material. This is easily the best edition for the film I’ve yet come across.