I Stand Alone

Year: 1998
Production Co: Canal+
Director: Gaspar Noé
Writer: Gaspar Noé
Cast: Phillipe Nahon

I watched this film because I was a huge fan of Gaspar Noe's later film Enter The Void, and I appreciated the intent of what he was trying to do with Irreversible (bit impossible to call yourself a 'fan' of that film). And while it has the same hateful, nihilistic mood as Irreversible, you can tell he's not as much of a fully-formed director as he became later on.

Where a million directors from America show us a gilded view of Paris – and even most French directors find it hard to resist at least a sweeping establishing shot of the Louvre or The Eiffel Tower – the unnamed former butcher (Phillipe Nahon) lives in a Paris you don't see in any tourism promo or postcard.

As he walks around the dreary suburbs past shuttered up shops and roll gates that make the whole neighbourhood feel like a prison, it could be the seedier back streets of any big city slum or lonely industrial area.

The story is fairly simple. The butcher hasn't long come out of prison, and a series of frustrations cause him to lash out. Having lost his butcher shop when he went inside and with all his former associates telling him there's no work or money around, he and his shrewish wife have to live with her nagging mother.

His lack of work and dignity is easy pickings for them to gang up on him until he lashes out, beating up his pregnant wife, taking the handgun he owns and storming out of the apartment with a few francs in his pocket.

He staggers from episode to episode, determined to use his righteous anger, temper and gun if necessary to re-assert his masculinity in the society that's so completely emasculated him, but each situation (he goes to live in a dingy hotel, hires a hooker who turns out to be an unresponsive junkie) proves less satisfactory than the last.

And all the while he narrates a constant litany of hatred and faux-empowerment, convincing himself everything he's doing is right and justified.

It all seems to hinge on the mentally ill daughter he wants to take out of care so they can be a family again. She's the reason he ended up in jail in the first place and he seems to think their being together is his only redemption.

But when he takes her out of the institution she's been in, the relationship he has (and apparently wants) with the girl is as sinister as anything else he does. Told entirely from his point of view, the film seems to be asking us to sympathise with a guy who might be as sick in the head and as cruel as the violent rapist from Irreversible.

Noe achieves the impressive trick of having us understand what he's going through all the while we wish the cops would show up and put a bullet in his brain before he can hurt anyone else.

It's not as shocking as Irreversible but Noe still wants to shock and horrify you. The context of the violence is worse than the content here, and without the subtext of what's going on it's actually not that interesting either narratively or visually.

Noe proved he can do beauty even while he deals with lowlives and violence with Enter The Void, but this film comes from the same place as Irreversible – a nasty-minded desire to use taboos and grotesqueries in an attempt to hold a mirror up to our prejudices.

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