Monday, November 12, 2012

Commentary Tracks - Irreversible

Irreversible (2002) with director/writer Gaspar Noé

Comments on the Film

On the opening credits
There are few films with interesting credits – There's Godard and Orson Welles' films – but credits are definitely an integral part of the movie, so from the first image you try to match everything with the look of the film. So here [studio names] 'Canal' has a backwards 'N' and 'Mars' has a backwards 'R,' and here are the end credits in reverse, and the subtitler's name would appear here. During festival screenings people thought the projectionist had made a mistake, that he'd loaded the film backwards, so people will often start clapping to alert the projectionist, but then they realise that no, it's not at all a mistake, it was done on purpose. In fact, there will be no credits at the end of the film. I don't like getting to the end of a movie and then having to read the credits, so it's better at the beginning before you're into it.

On Philippe Nahon
And there's my idol, Philippe Nahon, the star of my movies Carne and I Stand Alone, who I absolutely wanted in this film and who wanted to be in this film. We shot the film chronologically, although it plays in reverse chronological order, so we shot this scene at the end. He waited for weeks to know what role he would play, so in the end I told him, "You'll be in a room, speaking with my friend Stéphane Drouot," who is one of the directors, if not the director, I most admired as I was starting to make movies. He directed a film called Star Suburb, which won the César for Best Short Film, and after that he wrote a number of screenplays that were never made into films. So Philippe Nahon asked what his role was and I said, "You'll be talking to him as the butcher from Carne and I Stand Alone," which both surprised and pleased him. We didn't really know what they would talk about. The dialogue was improvised in the rest of the film as well, but I did tell him he had to say he'd slept with his daughter, because it was unclear at the end of I Stand Alone, and that he had to start with "Time destroys all things," which was for a long time the title of the film instead of Irreversible.

On editing
More invisible cuts. We switch to shots taken from a car or a truck. There are a lot of shots linked together and made possible through the film's digital postproduction. The film was shot in Super 16 so the cameras would be light. We used Aaton and Minima cameras. The film is composed of many short takes or sequence shots which, even though they were shot at different times like in the next sequence, were all linked together once we had chosen the right takes in HD video at MacGuff, the postproduction company for the film. This gives the impression of continuity, as if a fly was flying from one truck to the next. It was a lot of work finding the takes that would match at the right speeds and would match the direction of the rotation, but it was absolutely magical to be able to do postproduction digitally. Until now, most of my films were edited in 16mm or 35mm, and there was no way to correct technical errors or do morphing or other effects possible today with video, which widens the director's possibilities in terms of cinematic language. There's no way this movie could have been made in this way a decade ago.

On camerawork
The idea of making the camera fly around in every direction, I'm not sure where that came from but it's something that came naturally as we were shooting the movie. At the beginning of the shoot I wanted to use very stable shots for the scenes at the end of the movie and get progressively more chaotic. Here, the camera is totally floating and, as I said about the previous shot, almost like a flying spirit with no sense of direction, an unexplained disembodied vision. Now we've moved to a Technocrane shot we filmed another day, the invisible cut from inside to outside was made digitally in postproduction. And there you have it. Here we see again the possibilities of that marvellous crane, the Technocrane. There was no shot list for any of the handheld or crane camerawork. I said, "Let's try to have some fun with this." None of the shots were predetermined. Once we had the equipment, the idea was just to do the strangest things possible with the toys at our disposal.

On improvisation
The whole movie has improvised dialogue. I gave them instructions as to the intended outcome of the sequences, sometimes a couple of lines to use, but otherwise I think what comes out in the moment is so much more intense than what you can prepare in advance. I'd already tried this in different ways in my previous films, but I thought I would push it further. In any case, on the first day of shooting we had a four-page script with not more than 10 or 15 lines of description for each of the sequences, so on each day of filming we would rehearse and then do the sequence. It could last six or 16 minutes, but in the end the length was dictated by the reality of the shoot, not anything predetermined.

On music
I love this music here by Thomas Bangalter, one of the two members of Daft Punk, who did the music for the whole film. At first the film was slated to have music from various sources, but since Thomas had given me the rights to the party music I showed him an early edit and said I loved his stuff and he could propose other ideas. So he did come forward with some music and I think one of the first pieces he proposed was the one in the taxi, which I think is great and worth listening to on the soundtrack CD. There are pieces sometimes that we only hear for maybe 15 seconds, and almost inaudibly because of the mixing, and they are dreadful when you hear them alone.

On the rape
Regarding this sequence, which was perhaps the most talked about when it was shown at Cannes and in the media, it comes from various sources, stories I've heard from real life and from my perception of similarly themed films like Deliverance or Straw Dogs. One thing that stood out for me was that for a film to feel violent it has to be believable. I don't like movies that deal with a certain subject, then all of a sudden they show a chimney while the couple is making love, or when someone is being killed the camera pans out and you hear a gunshot. Violence is real. It is and will always be part of life, part of all animal species. So here we were going to portray a rape and I think it needed to be shot in real time to convey the weight of this situation. I think the reason why people, and men especially, found the scene so difficult, is that all of a sudden we identify with Monica, with her character, and it's hard to identify with a victim. I don't think there's any way to identify with the rapist, at least to this day no one I've ever spoken to has. And as for identifying with the victim, I naturally chose the bias of portraying the perspective of Alex, Monica's character, by keeping the camera on the ground. Now we are stuck just like she is. We shot this scene six times over two days, three times each day, allowing Monica and Jo Prestia breaks of two hours or two hours and a half between each take. Because it was so emotionally charged both they and the crew needed breaks. So many people have commented on the length of this scene, but I felt it was necessary. A rape rarely takes place in less than nine minutes. I wanted the length of the sequence to be realistic, and as long as Jo and especially Monica were willing to keep the scene that long I felt the impact on the viewers would be much more intense. Also, as a director I had to accept what they wanted to shoot, so I would say that this sequence is more the result of Monica's directing than mine because she was holding the cards and could tell me, 'I want to stop. I won't do this or that.' I told her to tell me if there was a problem. I think Monica was extremely daring for having taken this scene so far, given her position in French and international cinema, and I think Jo Prestia was also daring for playing such a monstrous character. It took more courage on their part than it did for me to film it. I'm totally amazed by their performance.

On Marcus and Alex's love scene
I think this sequence in particular wouldn't have worked without Vincent and Monica because we feel that they love each other, that their movements are natural, that there's a level of familiarity with each other's body. I don't see how Vincent could have played this scene with another actress or Monica with another actor. There are certain things one can and cannot lie about when you are two or three feet away from the camera. I believe there are ways of kissing in movies that are true and other ways that are false. Almost all kisses that have no emotional impact on set are extremely obvious on the screen. I think they were happy. Once they stopped being nervous because they were naked and because it's rather intimate appearing in the nude with someone you actually sleep with, and once they were calmed by the results on video and they viewed the takes shot on Steadicam, they were reassured. As a result the energy level rose throughout the day, so at the end of the day we got this result. We re-shot the sequence the next day, but strangely enough it became a little more repetitive than the first day. Obviously, they both have such beautiful bodies a lot of viewers said, "I don't know whether to fall in love with Vincent or Monica." I think the viewer also has a sense of being rewarded in this scene. If we had to endure everything we did, at least we made it here because there's more to the universe than what we've seen until now. I think that if the film consisted only of the first half it wouldn't have been of any interest, and maybe showing this sequence by itself without the rest would have made it float in a sort of cloud of peace. Reality is a lot more animalistic than what we pretend it is, and the second half is a counterweight to the first.

Bits and Pieces

I think I stole the idea to change the title four times from Tarkovsky's The Mirror where, if I'm not mistaken, the title appeared normally and then in reverse.

This is probably the most experimental section of the film but also the least tedious. Often, the more complicated or visual something is the less tedious it is. Narrative parts quickly become boring, especially on second watching. It's usually the more incomprehensible movies that I watch the most often on DVD.

There I am, also dressed for the part. It's difficult to get an erection. I wanted very badly to have a hard-on during the take, but with the assistant cameraman and the whole crew there I realised how difficult it was, so I have a lot of respect for those who can get hard-ons on command.

Many people misunderstood and thought the rapist is killed at the beginning of the movie. That's not at all what happens; it's his friend who gets killed. I guess about one in five people mistakenly think they kill the rapist.

As for the lighting in the whole film, we didn't use any floodlights whatsoever, only high-voltage bulbs and natural lighting. I find that in movies with floodlighting you can detect it 99% of the time, which makes what you see less believable. Makeup, as well, makes the actors less believable, so we didn't use any makeup either throughout the whole movie.

Tenia means tapeworm and I almost used it as the title for my last film I Stand Alone because I felt it complemented the title Carne pretty well. But since I didn't use Tenia as the title of I Stand Alone, I brought it back as the name of the rapist.

The rest of the movie is happier. The nightmare is over. And in fact a lot of people leave the theatre before this sequence, so when I was able to introduce the film I would tell people to stay to the end because this movie is like being dirtied for 30 minutes and then getting a shower. You're better off staying for the shower because otherwise you'll leave feeling dirty.

What Vincent will be sniffing is not cocaine. It's not sugar but some substance that has no effect whatsoever, and the straw even had a little filter. What was strange was that because there were a lot of extras who were drunk, they would go into the bathroom between takes and when they saw the glucose or flour of whatever, they thought it was coke and they wanted to take some. They would take the straw with the filter and not understand why it wouldn't work.

Final Thoughts

It's often the nicest people that make the scariest movies. People always wonder how I can make this type of film, being as soft-spoken and smiley as I am. If you meet someone like Cronenberg, you'll find he is very polite and civilised. Actually, I think that making movies or literary works that are extreme or radical is a sort of outlet for very civilised people. I'm sure Pierre Molinier, the photographer, must have been incredibly civilised, the same for Pasolini, the man who did Salò. Often it's the directors of mainstream comedies who are the scariest people in real life.