Year: 2002
Production Co: 120 Films
Director: Gaspar Noé
Writer: Gaspar Noé
Cast: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel

It was a very long time after this film first came out that I finally caught up with it, and mostly it was out of fear of what the pivotal scene would do to me psychologically.

Whatever you think about the creative legitimacy of the film or the genre, Belluci, her costar and director Noe deserve Oscars for enduring what must be one of the most upsetting sights ever committed to celluloid.

Noe points the camera at Alex (Belluci) and her attacker from floor level in the filthy highway underpass, and during the nine-minute sequence, he neither shies away from the brutality nor zooms in for further impact. It's as if the screen is an immobile prison where this poor woman is going through this and we have no chance of helping her.

But while it's that awful scene the film is (in) famous for, the film as a whole is almost as affecting. Noe's fascinated by dimly-lit brick walls, dank corridors and menacing darkness. He uses any creative trick he can to evoke a feeling of danger and horror, including sounds in the background of the soundtrack that aren't actually part of the story except to unsettle you. Apparently there's also a low hum out of audio range that was designed to make people feel sick and want to leave the cinema. The camera wheels and spins like a drunkard, adding to the claustrophobia and sickliness.

In fact there's only one 'straight' camera move in the film, which is when Marcus (Cassel) realises the girl who's been attacked that everyone's talking about is his beloved Alex. The camera crash zooms in on him slightly, and you know it's the instant when he realises the beaten and bloodied face in the paramedic bed is hers as they bring her outside to the ambulance.

It tells the story of a trio of friends, two of them married. They get ready to go out, take a train together to a party, flirt and dance, argue, the woman leaves and it's when she's crossing the road via the underpass to get a taxi that she's set upon by an opportunistic thug.

When her boyfriend and his friend realise what's happened, they accept the offer of a pair of seedy underworld types to track down her attacker, knowing there's little the police will achieve. They track the man to a terrifying gay sex club with the slightly comical name of Rectum where they exact their terrible revenge.

But in Memento style, we begin with the desperate flight through the dingy rooms of the club and the most brutal use of a fire extinguisher you'll ever see and move backwards in time all the way to the winsome lady reading peacefully in the park earlier that day, with no idea of the horrors to befall her.

By virtue of the 'reverse-linearity', it gets slower and less gripping as it goes on - the complete opposite of the traditional movie structure that's supposed to build at an ever-rising emotional tempo.

Why Noé made the film he did is open to a lot of interpretation. You can attribute it to anything from the objectification of women to a simple desire to shock (employing methods to encourage walk-outs would seem to support such a claim), the structure of a typical Hollywood film, but I think it's essentially a nihilistic film (in case the content hadn't forewarned you) whose philosophy is the line you see more than once - 'time ruins everything'.

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