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Formal Attire

Minimalist Journeys and Maximum Overdrive

What did they do? The second sequence picks up the story pre-arrest, following the frantic pair into the murky sex dungeon amusingly known as Club Rectum; they are searching for a guy they call "Le Ténia" (The Tapeworm) but, in the hellish s&m confusion, wind up using a handy fire extinguisher to bludgeon someone else's skull to a bloody pulp. Continuing, ass-backwards as it were, the third sequence shows Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel), as we now know them to be called, smashing a taxi and abusing the immigrant driver in their unholy hurry to find the Rectum.

What's their rush? The much-hyped, albeit indifferently received, designated scandal of the last Cannes Film Festival, Irréversible's central episode has Marcus's gorgeous girlfriend (Monica Bellucci), appetizingly wrapped in the flimsiest of frocks, waylaid, forcibly buggered, and then brutally stomped right on her beautiful kisser by Le Ténia in a fetid, underground passage through which she sought to cross a busy street. Anus mundi, indeed. This intentionally and successfully repellent nastiness lasts eight minutes but feels far longer. Having found its meat at last, Noé's camera stops turning cartwheels and settles down to masticate upon the unsavory spectacle. Mission accomplished.

Irréversible continues slogging back through parties and bedroom scenes—one tryst beneath a poster for 2001—to reward the viewer with a vision of paradise lost. Unlike the indie hit Memento, which employed a similar flashback structure, Irréversible is not predicated on suspense. Nor does it have the internal, amnesiac logic that gave Memento its particular brain-twisting integrity. From the end to the beginning—or is it from the inadvertently ridiculous to the would-be sublime?—Noé's stunt is an exploitation movie with a gimmick, not to mention a vacuous philosophy: "Time destroys everything," Nahon informs us. Bien sûr.And if you need proof, spend 90 minutes with Irréversible. You won't get them back.

Neither fiction nor documentary: Amin Maher in Ten
photo: Zeitgeist Films
Neither fiction nor documentary: Amin Maher in Ten

Details

Ten
Written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Zeitgeist
March 5 through 18, at Film Forum

Irrťversible
Written and directed by Gaspar Noé
Lions Gate
Opens March 7

Laurel Canyon
Written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens March 7

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Irréversible is intended to introduce the viewer to his or her own id. Lisa Cholodenko's more conventional Laurel Canyonopens with a conjugal act meant to establish the characters of her protagonists. Sam and Alex (Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale, both playing American) are a recent pair of Harvard med grads. She's a girl who knows what she wants; he's a guy who's amiably . . . confused.

As it turns out, Sam is the super-straight son of a legendary record producer named Jane (Frances McDormand), whose Laurel Canyon pad is placed at his and Alex's disposal when he gets a residency at an L.A. mental hospital and she needs a place to complete her dissertation on the reproductive life of the common Drosophila melanogaster. The complication is that Jane and a band are there too, finishing a record—no fruit flies on them. Thus, Laurel Canyon recapitulates Cholodenko's first feature, High Art, with another tale of an innocent young woman swept into the sex and drug scene swirling around a charismatic older female artist. Alex is predictably fascinated by Jane's riotous rock 'n' roll lifestyle, which includes an aspiring pop-star lover half her age (Alessandro Nivola, playing Brit), and soon abandons her dis to groove on the band. For his part, Sam falls under the spell of a witchy hospital colleague (Natascha McElhone playing an Israeli with a Russian accent and inspiring, as always, the question: Jeepers creepers, where did she get those peepers?).

The spectacle of pretty people floating languidly across the screen notwithstanding, Laurel Canyonis short on conviction and long on contrivance. McDormand, however, has a ball. Although it's unclear whether she's the movie's best character or just its best actress, she makes the most of a role that allows her to swim topless, engage in three-ways, and generally obliterate her mortifying turn as the maternal killjoy in Almost Famous.


Related Article:
"Ten and Under the Skin of the City: Two Iranian Films Put Women in the Driver's Seat" by Jessica Winter

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