I Stand Alone

Dir. Gaspar Noé, 1998. Starring: Philippe Nahon, Blandine Lenoir, Frankie Pain. Foreign.
I Stand Alone

Impressions are the one thing we all have in common. Like an instinct for other animals, we need them to stay alert. For instance, how do you know what pain is? Some say that the memory of something such as pain comes from your first experience or impression of it. A child, let's say, only needs to touch a hot stone once before they are aware that it would not be wise to do so again. I Stand Alone was not a cinematic experience for me, but a real and dangerous impression. I've thought of it often over the years, especially with its successor, Irreversible, being talked about and vomited over so heavily (apparently there is a frequency in the soundtrack that induces nausea). And now a new film by Gaspar Noé is in theaters, and within me there is an urge to both rush to the theater and to stay far away from it. I've heard that Noé's new film is not as grizzly as the others, but that is not what I am worried about. While watching I Stand Alone I lost myself. I saw the world, not as a woman or youth, but with the perspective of a bitter, old, incestuous man. The lead character (I dare not call him a protagonist), is so overpowering and steadfast in his ugliness that you cannot help but see things his way. When the film is over, you'll shake your head and repeat to yourself that no soul is this hideous. The fact that you are uncertain is more unsettling than any amount of gore that could ever be pumped into a movie.

Compared to Taxi Driver for its narration, violence, and themes of justice being taken into the hands of a working class maniac, it is also considered the anti-Amélie. Devoid of the previously established harmonies in French cinema, it still boasts the same beautiful cinematography and nostalgic storytelling techniques that were used to exhaustion before it. Were it intentional (and we'll never know if it was), it could be seen as mockery. I enjoyed Amélie as much as the next person, but with cinematic techniques, certain things can be stretched only so far.

In this movie we find a butcher (Philippe Nahon) who is a single parent and has recently been released from prison. His crime was stabbing the first man he saw after his daughter (Blandine Lenoir) came to his shop for help with blood on her clothes. He suspected rape, when really she had simply gotten her first period. While in jail his daughter, who is mute and slightly handicapped, was put in an institution. Once released, the butcher finds work at a bar and starts seeing the matron (Frankie Pain). She gets pregnant and the two re-locate to northern France with the hopes of the butcher returning to his horsemeat trade. He visits his daughter and says his goodbyes. The butcher becomes unsettled by the fact that he is entirely dependent on his new lover. So, in a series of heartless and brutal acts, he abandons her and the city.

Full of hatred and despair, he returns to Paris and his old circle of friends, hoping that he can become a butcher again. But with his age and prison record, no one will touch him. The men he formally thought of as friends are proved to be worthless, none of them willing to give him a chance. He learns how people really see him, and did see him in the past. He drinks heavily and buys prostitutes to distract him from the guilt he feels—not for the monstrous way he treats people, but because he is, and has been, in love with his daughter for a long time. Once consumed by his desire, the butcher ventures back to the institution in order to regain custody of his daughter. I'd love to explain more of the plot, but I simply can't. The film even stops for a moment and displays a buzzing warning sign, telling you to walk out of the theater while you have the chance. No joke.

Now, I wasn’t shocked or disturbed by the way the story was resolved. I was taken aback by what had been done to my psyche in order for me to be blindly led toward the end. It was like being hypnotized by the images. While the narration is essential, I found that I could turn off the subtitles and audio and still be just as moved. The heavy emphasis on the city and its relation to the man who inhabits it was sensational. The seclusion of the butcher is brilliant because, as a viewer, you are also cut off from the world. There is no comic relief and not a single break—only a steady wave of tension and fear of what might be coming up next. Noé's decision to have the character be a butcher is also genius. There are scenes where horsemeat is being handled in a way that walks the line between sensual and commonplace so well that you avoid interpreting it.

This is a character who seems so real that you don't want to meet him, or feel the possibility of being able to. He has the weariest of souls and the nastiest sense of reality. To be shaken up by this film would mean that it has reached its objective with you. Not to be repulsed or shocked, but to be changed and driven to hatred, which is what happened to me. I felt hate - real hate - for a fictional character, and this film and its star made me feel that. The fact that cinema could do this, and does so much more, is more than enough reason to step out of your comfort zone and see the work of Gaspar Noé. I guess that means I'm going to go see Enter the Void, after all.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Oct 8, 2010 12:36pm
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