Top critical review
10 people found this helpful
Powerful feature-length debut from Gaspar Noe.
on 19 May 2006
I haven't seen this film since 2003, when it was shown on Film Four shortly before the release of Gaspar Noe's second feature film, the controversial Irreversible. As a result, my opinion of it is based largely on memory, and the memory of a 19 year old at that!! So, if you'd rather read the opinion of someone more familiar with the film, then feel free, but if you'd still like to pour through my befuddled musings regardless, the plough ahead. WARNING!!! YOU HAVE 30 SECONDS TO LEAVE THIS REVIEW!!!
I Stand Alone (from the original title, Seul Contre Tous, which translates more accurately as One Against All) is Noe's take on the territory of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, with the film focusing on a callous, volatile, short-tempered loner, who slips further and further into the realms of madness, obsession, violence and alienation over the course of the film's 90 minute running time. The film is very much the backbone to a loose trilogy of films anchored by the character of The Butcher, who is here played with fierce intensity by Phillipe Nahon. The Butcher was first introduced in Noe's 1991 short film Carne, which began with a shot of a horse being slaughtered and subsequently a baby being born (both shown in extremely graphic detail) before following the butcher's obsessive desire for revenge after his autistic daughter is assaulted. Nahon would return in the opening (closing?) scene of Noe's masterpiece Irreversible playing a mysterious character riffing on the notion of time and destruction, whilst simultaneously, describing a course of events that seemed to reflect directly on the actions of both Carne and this.
Here, the film picks up with the Butcher after he's been released from prison following his revenge spree at the end of Carne, with his life now revolving around menial employment, bouts of self-pity and domestic "bliss" with a woman who he hopes will be seduced into financing his own shop. When the woman falls pregnant she decides to pull out of the butcher's shop idea and demands that the butcher marry her instead. Incensed by this, the butcher beats the woman repeatedly in the stomach in order to terminate the pregnancy, before setting off on an odyssey into the depths of darkest despair that will eventually culminate in a grotty hotel room with a scene of taboo breaking redemption. Throughout the film, Noe establishes a cold and claustrophobic atmosphere that is far removed from the headache inducing visual style of the subsequent Irreversible. Here, the camera hardly ever moves... perhaps referencing the stoic, stubborn and emotionally detached personality of the central character?
The film is also less violent, with Noe building an atmosphere of quiet brooding menace... with his use of sound and music, coupled with the rigid mise-en-scene, suggesting more than actual displays of (visceral) violence ever could. Certainly, the most savage sequence is the one described above (I felt it was important to describe this sequence, rather than allude to it, as the sequence will certainly turn off a lot of potential viewers... and I personally don't see it as a spoiler either, as the afore-knowledge that this scene exists is not enough to lessen the emotional impact that that particular moment has!!), though there is also a scene mid-way through the film in which Nahon's character goes to a porno theatre (similar to the scenes in Taxi Driver in which Bickle also attends a porn film, yet derives no pleasure from it), in which we see a very brief shot of actual hard-core penetration. The climax of the film suggests something very much taboo, though the handling of it on Noe's part is surprisingly tame (even more surprising given the B-Movie style "30 second warning" that urges viewers of a sensitive disposition to leave the film before the end - and yes, I wasn't just being pretentious when I alluded to the warning at the end of the first paragraph... it's actually in the film!!).
Unless the version I saw was cut (it did have optical blurring of the hardcore porn... but Mark Kermode's introduction claimed that that was the only thing changed), then those expecting a climax similar to the scenes of intense, pornographic, violent excess found at the end (or beginning?) of Irreversible will only be disappointed, with Noe instead going for an air of tragic irony and low-key devastation. Ultimately, I Stand Alone is a powerful film full of ambition and a general air of defeated self-hatred and contempt for modern society. That said, for me the film fell short of the masterpiece tag on a number of levels... or at least, that's how I remembered it. Much of the film revolves around Nahon walking around the nocturnal streets of France narrating to himself of how much he hates the world. Nothing really happens, with the film generally feeling like it's building to something soul destroying... but then it never comes!! The film ending with a whimper, rather than a bang.
As a result, the film can be quite dull, especially to those expecting the over-the-top melodrama and flashy visuals of Irreversible. As I stated above, this was my perception of the film when I was 19. Having now seen both Carne and Irreversible, I could really do with seeing this film again - with the possibility of better appreciating what Noe was trying to say - but since the film is unavailable on region 2 DVD, I don't have much of a choice (unless some kind soul reading this decides to release it on R2 DVD, uncut with a director's commentary - in French, with subtitles - and Carne included on the bonus disk!!!). I Stand Alone is a visually distinctive, slow-burning and occasionally quite powerful film (with a cold and calculated performance from the underrated Nahon) that deserves to be seen... if only to further appreciate the leap that Noe has made from knowing-provocateur, to fully-fledged auteur.