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Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2003

Noe easy ride, unless in Tokyo

Gaspar Noe and Vincent Cassel's press conference at Shibuya's trendy restaurant/club Fabrique was a real lovefest, dancing graciously around the fact that "Irreversible" is one of the most genuinely shocking films you'll ever see.

News photo
Vincent Cassel (left) and Gaspar Noe at Fabrique in Shibuya

The press fawned on Cassel, asking him what it was like working with his real-life partner, Italian actress Monica Bellucci. Local talent Keiko Koike -- billed as "the Japanese Monica Bellucci" (i.e., they both have voluptuous curves) -- turned up with flowers for a playful photo shoot. She wore a white dress similar to the one Bellucci sports in the film, and Noe commented "C'est dangeur," provoking much nervous laughter.

Noe, the miserabilist auteur bar none, actually grinned. All in all, there was surprisingly little controversy to greet a director who was trying his damnedest in the movie to provoke a reaction.

I did ask him why it was necessary to show the rape scene in real time, the longest rape in the history of cinema outside of pornographic films.

"There are some women friends of mine who've been through that experience," said the director, "and I really wanted to depict it in a realistic way. Actually, a real rape would be even longer than nine minutes. But if you cut it so that it's too short, it becomes unbelievable, fake."

Cassel wanted to comment as well: "The rape itself isn't shown in such detail [an arguable claim], but what makes the scene so horrible is the length of the scene, and the fixed, unflinching position of the camera." Noe added, "More than that, it was Monica's performance, which was incredibly brave."

Cassel closed the issue by saying: "Scenes of rape and murder are things we see in the movies all the time these days, and I think we've become numb to it. In order to make people feel quite deeply how cruel these acts are, it was necessary to make the scenes so long."

It wasn't only the nasty scenes that were long: Noe's approach to the entire film, shot on a tight six-week schedule when both actors were available, was "one scene, one take." Cassel described his lengthy bedroom scene with Bellucci: "I knew we were shooting the scenes in one take, but I wanted to know how long it should be. I asked Gaspar and he said, 'However long you like, from two minutes to 20 minutes.' I laughed, but he wasn't joking. We actually shot 20 minutes, one full reel of film."

Noe admits that he didn't have a script for the film, just a 3 1/2-page synopsis, allowing the actors to create their dialogue through improvisation. Cassel enjoyed the process, describing it as "incredibly free. You never knew how long a scene would last; you could do what you wanted. You get that same sort of charge you get performing on stage; you have to be very focused and open to the moment."

Casting Cassel and Bellucci, both high-profile celebrity actors, was a first for Noe, who prefers nonprofessionals.

"I'm a really bad director," says Noe, self-deprecatingly. "I don't give any directions. When I'm casting, I just look for people who are very charismatic, who can be themselves before the camera. For example, the 16-minute love scene between Monica and Vincent, I didn't give any directions. Before we began, I told them 'good luck,' and after we cut, I said 'bravo!' "

The couple's scene in bed -- like the violence -- is very convincing: "For a love scene, I wanted to show real love, nothing fake, it had to be real, believable," explains the director.

Noe seems to understand the problems some audiences have with his film, but he has no regrets. "When I saw the finished film, it frightened me," he admits. "I even cried, it made me sad. But a film full of rage, tears, laughs -- I was glad I made it."

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