Photo by Debra Dipaolo
L.A. WEEKLY: You were born . . .
GASPAR NOÉ: In Buenos Aires, but my parents moved to New York as soon as I was born. I lived there until the age of 5, then we moved back to Argentina for six years. And then, for political reasons — my father is a painter, an artist, my mother was a social worker, both of them quite left-wing — we had to move away again. So since 1976 I’m living in Paris.
Any religious indoctrination? Catholic? Jewish? Both? Neither?
No, no, no — hopefully! I’m allergic to the word god.
So then, film school, Carne [1991’s 40-minute prologue to Noé’s first feature], I Stand Alone and now Irreversible. The new movie begins — ends, actually — with a strobe effect, like Tony Conrad’s in The Flicker. Were you intending to induce epileptic seizures? Wasn’t the movie upsetting enough already?
No, no, I wasn’t. But you know, that was the biggest fight I had with my producers — maybe the only real fight. They insisted I cut the strobe. But I really thought the movie needed something else after the park and the sky and all that. Suddenly, you have this abstract fear, a rush of something, something that’s not even human, not animal, not about the world, but a mechanical fear, the fear of time.
And just before, in the park, Alex [Monica Bellucci] is reading something about time.
Yes. An Experiment With Time, by J.W. Dunne, a guy who was noting his dreams each morning and came to the conclusion that 80 percent of the material came from the previous day, but that maybe between 10 and 20 percent was made of things that were going to happen, say, the next day. He developed a whole theory on how the brain creates the perception of time when time is already there, pre-existent.
A theory that is borne out by Alex’s dream.
Yeah. She has this dream about the red tunnel, and still she cannot avoid her own fate. This is all very melodramatic — and very sadistic, to play with the audience this way, to make them think that maybe their own premonitions are true.
Did Monica Bellucci — or her boyfriend, Vincent Cassel, for that matter — hesitate when it came to the rape scene?
Not really. They were much more shy about being naked together, in the bedroom scene. The rape, and the murder, that was just work. Monica has more balls, more guts to make this movie than me. I had nothing to lose. My previous movie was already that controversial.
Since last year at Cannes, the press has laid all sorts of charges at your door — misogyny, homophobia, fascism . . .
Not so much misogyny. Maybe Monica is a bit too much the ideal of the maternal woman.
That shot of her belly — the center of the world.
Yes, she’s perfect, calm, getting ready to be the most gorgeous mother in the world. Whereas the other characters in this movie are very testicular, very hormonal, testicles vibrating from the beginning to the end. Anyway, I went to these clubs in Paris searching for ideas for a scene that would be like the club in [William Friedkin’s] Cruising, but not so much because that was a gay club. It was more about having a totally male first act. It could have been in a prison, in a military camp, whatever. I wanted the first act to be about men among men, or against men, men fighting with men.
But yes, I was afraid of being accused of homophobia. So to avoid that accusation, I said, “Okay, I’ll just be a part of the party.” So there’s a shot of me masturbating next to this other guy with his fingers in his ass. So I wouldn’t be accused of homophobia. [Laughs.]
Still, what can you expect? You push a lot of buttons. You’re fishing for violent reactions.
No, not really. You know, people — distributors, producers, even your friends sometimes — always talk about audiences, audiences. But I don’t think about an audience. I just think about people, individual persons, friends, family. “What will my father think of this movie?” Mainly, I decide on a target, and I want to do it as perfectly as possible. It’s a game you play with yourself, and the more complex the game is, the happier you are about winning that game. Doing a movie like Irreversible — a rape-revenge movie in reverse, all master shots, no cuts — it was quite risky, and exciting because it was risky, for me, for the actors, for everybody, I hope.