I Stand Alone review

:. Director: Gaspar Noé
:. Starring: Philippe Nahon, Blandine Lenoir
:. Running Time: 1:33
:. Year: 1998
:. Country: France


Gaspar Noé's first film, I Stand Alone (Seul Contre Tous), is a provocative exploration of hatred that chews on the audience's guts, confronting them with a bare incarnation of the word Abject.

Philippe Nahon is a butcher whose life spins out of control after he is released from jail. Having lost everything—he had to sell his business and lost his freaky daughter to an institution—the man tries to find an escape with a woman he doesn't love, but soon his frustration makes him explode in bursts of rage against her, himself and the rest of the world.

While the film might shock the unsuspecting viewer and the conservative "critic" wearing blinders, this is not a simple exercise of gratuitous provocation. Noé demonstrates the mechanism of hate using a figure shaped on extreme right French nationalists. Hate is shown as the result of different factors such as frustration, social inequality and a natural propensity for violence.

The butcher was raised an orphan in poverty and his frustration comes from losing his daughter and job, ending up with no purpose in life. While his life before his crime wasn't picture-perfect, his darkness being perceptible, he was however a polite and honest man trying to live a normal life. These are a succession of events, which could happen to anybody, that make him snap where others would have reacted differently. The fact that he also has to sell his butcher shop to Arab immigrants reflects a pretext for racism omnipresent in French society. He is not primarily racist, he is angry at the whole world, from bourgeois to homosexuals and women. But he knows that the main source of his anger is his hate for himself. Curiously this main theme of the film can also be find in Spike Lee's 25th Hour memorable mirror monologue.

His job as a butcher refers to his relationship with the world. Not only can the word "butcher" be associated to blood, killing and a lack of delicacy, but meat—and flesh—are omnipresent in the movie. Everything around him, except for his daughter, is in his eyes assimilated to meat whose only purpose is nutritive. Beyond the obvious steaks from his shop, his girlfriend is a piece of financial meat, sex is only flesh, and the other humans are only pieces of meat that he can kill like vulgar animals. This strange conception of his denotes his dehumanized relationship to the world, which explains that his daughter, the only person he loves, has been spared from that view. The presence of horses, as his main source of meat or as the rocking horse his daughter likes to ride, is of course a symbol of sexuality linking the two. Thus the incest sequence might be shocking but is logical for the characters, as the ultimate symbol of true love between the two. The happy ending score and tones are provocative but at the same time they provide a breeze of fresh air as the only moment of humanity in the picture.

Performances are haunting and the direction is inventive, like the countdown warning to leave the theater before it gets worse. I Stand Alone is the first chapter of a work on hate. The character's voice-over tells you that once you get yourself in that mechanism it becomes irreversible (the title of his second film examining hate from the point of view of vengeance and featuring a cameo from Nahon). Some might tell you that the film goes nowhere but the filmmaker's work favors the experience to narrative, reminding you that movies can also be approached as means of expression and art, far away from its generalization as entertainment pieces for mass consumption. Noé's cinema is rough, sharp, bloody, pushing you into humanity's darkest corners and bringing films to uncharted territory.

  Fred Thom

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