Share via Email Is it a good career move to star in a widely condemned movie that features a nine-minute rape sequence and a man getting his head bludgeoned to pulp with a fire extinguisher? Vincent Cassel rolls his eyes. But if you want to talk about careers, a lot of directors from all over the world will look up to this movie. This movie will be studied at film schools years from now. In the movie, Cassel plays a vengeful husband trawling some of the most seamy Parisian clubs to find the man who raped his wife, Alex, and to kill him.
Alex is played by Cassel's real-life wife, Italian model-turned-actor Monica Bellucci. Much of the critical interest in this difficult film, directed by Argentinian film-maker Gaspar Noe, has focused on how it tells its rape-revenge story in reverse. The picture starts with the attack and leads back to the rape and a seduction scene in the shower between Cassel and Bellucci, whose putative sexiness is undone by the violence of what we have seen in the rest of the film.
This device of reversing the chronology of a story in film is not new. In the film adaptation of Harold Pinter's play Betrayal - which deals with a woman's affair with her husband's best friend - the entire story is told from the husband's point of view, with the scenes in reverse chronological order. The idea of telling a story in reverse destabilises your ordinary moral reactions. That's one of the points of art - to challenge your preconceptions. Instead of crossing a busy street, she walks through a grim-looking subway, wearing a see-through dress and high heels.
She is attacked by a gay pimp, who calls her a "fucking bitch" and anally rapes her at knifepoint. We then see Alex try to get to her feet before he grabs her and thumps her head repeatedly into a slab until she passes out. What did Cassel think when he saw the scene? He squirms in his seat. But Monica said she didn't want me to be there. She said there was no reason to be there, and that it would be harder for the actor to work if I was. So I went to the southwest of France to surf.
It is a very difficult scene. We have both been confronted by our best friends who have asked us, 'Why did you do it? We're going to get you! He's supposed to be hard core. She said that afterwards she sat down, had a cup of coffee and thought about something else. He is to star alongside Bellucci and Eddie Izzard in what he calls "a shamanic western" directed by Jan Kounen, who made the violent Dobermann in , also starring Cassel. He is also to star in Gilles Mimouni's first film since the well-received picture L'Appartement, and in a new picture to be made by his friend Mathieu Kassovitz.
Cassel says that Noe initially approached both him and Bellucci to make the film that "Tom and Nicole screwed up. He meant Eyes Wide Shut. At first he said his fantasy would be to make a film with explicit sex that makes you cry. And finally it was getting very complicated and we said no. There was no script, just 15 pages - pretty much as many pages as there are shots in the movie. I thought it was great.
I really respect him and when someone makes a movie like this it is provocative and it is art. I like that it makes people react. One asked, why not show a real rape? It's a question that still angers Cassel.
Well, because this is a movie and we are making cinema. It's about faking something. It's not a snuff movie. I don't mind people reacting to the movie at all, but some of these people didn't consider the movie as made by artists but just as wankers trying to provoke. Some have said that showing rape at all on film is wrong. There are lots of films that have done so, notably Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs. That film only recently received a certificate, 18 years after it was made.
Its most controversial aspect is the rape of Susan George, which she is shown to be enjoying, momentarily. And in Death Wish, Michael Winner's near contemporaneous film, Charles Bronson plays an architect who reacts to the murder of his wife and attack on his daughter by going on a killing spree, the moral being that it is reassuring for public morals for Bronson to impose his gun law.
As viewers we are at least uncertain that Cassel's character's attempt to wreak revenge on the attacker is right, rather as we were when we saw John Wayne's character mutate horribly into the husk of a human being as he seeks revenge for the abduction of his niece by Comanches in John Ford's The Searchers.
For Cassel, though, the issue is not that clear. It shows us the animal in us. The main problem for the audience is that they don't want to see the animal that's in all of us.
Gaspar's film forces us to see that animal. Men fight, they're ugly. The men are stupid, and selfish, and she's like the crushed flower. This is what it's like. But the board has intimated that it may take a different view when certifying the film for video release. Cassel rolls his eyes again. It's not a movie you can cut. It's not Tomb Raider. It's a work of art.