Sunday, October 19, 2008

Netflix Fix -- I Stand Alone

This dude Gaspar Noe...something's seriously tetched in his head. Not that I'm complaining, though, or even condemning. More like, I'm saluting his creative insanity. Somewhat admitting jealousy, even. It takes some sort of subversive brilliance to pull off what he's capable of doing, and I'd hope I can conjur similar reactions whenever I attempt this brand of storytelling.

[Gaspar Noe]

I'd honestly never even heard of Noe until like a month or so ago, when I scanned the credits for one of my new crack-fixes, Irreversible. The film bitchslapped my senses with such ferocity that I vowed, "Anything else this filmmaker has done, I must experience." Painless, IMDB-centered researched followed, leading me to a flick he made before Irreversible, in 1998, called Seul contre tous, translated to I Stand Alone. Reviews and press surrounding it promised a viewing journey not quite as perversely-abstract as Irreversible, but one equally punishing to common decency and PC cinema.

In simpler terms, right up my dark alley.


Gave I Stand Alone a go late last night, after realizing that my hopes of going out and partying up were null and void. Entered my DVD player around 2:30am, though I slightly feared that I'd slip into snooze-ville during its runtime. That wasn't the case, which can be considered the film's first check-mark. The second, one awarded before I even watched, was that the film is of French origin, and we all know how much I adore the movieland of France.

There's this nameless (well, I'm sure he has a name, but Noe never reveals it) butcher, see, who is 50 years old and has recently returned home from a jail sentence, given to him after he killed a man he thought had raped his autistic teenage daughter. He'd enacted revenge on the wrong man, though, and was sent up North. He's released, and reunites with his new wife, whom he "lovingly" refers to as "that cunt, fat momma," and her mother. But this butcher is ruthlessly-cynical and anti-society. Hates any and everybody, except his daughter Cynthia, who lives in a mental institution now, after the rape. The butcher tries rejoining his French brethren, but is met with cold shoulders and employers who won't hire a former convict. After a particularly-brutal incident with pregnant "fat momma" that'd have any rivals of domestic violence pissed off to lava-burning degrees, the butcher hitch-hikes back to native Paris, where he originates from and where his daughter's mental home resides. One negative and rejecting event leads to another, and the butcher pretty much loses his shit. And what follows isn't pretty. Or easy to watch.

But Noe, a fella with infinite amounts of style and kick-ass panache, never stages this descent into madness with straightforward flare. The majority of I Stand Alone is narrated by the butcher's inner conscience, as we watch him walk down streets or sit at bars alone. By doing so, Noe makes the butcher's deteriorating psyche "stand alone," sort of speak. Overflowing with racist and misogynistic POVs. And we're right there with him, every fucked-up mental step of the way. Like "Simon" in Session 9, the persuasive, egging-on demon in his head is made a major character, convincing the butcher to carry out sick undertakings with forceful commands.


And the butcher is made all the more believable through a strong performance by Phillippe Nahon, an imposing man who first sent chills down my spine as the again-nameless killer in High Tension. The first seemingly-random scene in Irreversible, it's worth mentioning, has the butcher opining over a troubled life, which threads together all of Noe's film, uniquely. I've read that Noe even made a 40-minute short film, called Carne, that acts as a preface to I Stand Alone, so I'll have to get my mitts on that at some point,too.

Nahon is great, but the real star remains Noe and his direction. Like in Irreversible, his use of stark sound effects and unconventional editing cues work like charm school employees here. Quick cuts into facial close-ups are accentuated by what sound like gunshot blasts, and a number of scenes are concluded with loud, abrasive horn bursts, which keep the pace as breakneck as possible despite the somewhat slow-paced narrative progression. You're never fully at ease watching a Noe film, unsure of what he'll throw your way at any given time.

Such as, how a mundane domestic dispute between the butcher and his wife-whom-he-hardly-loves escalates into the butcher killing her unborn, in-stomach fetus, in a way I won't spoil here, but man is it brutal. Take this, for now: after doing what he does, the butcher's conscience says, toward "fat momma," about the never-will-be-born seed, "Your baby's hamburger meat now, ground beef." Paraphrasing a thought heard earlier in the film, he's spared the baby, in his warped mind, the misfortune of entering a world that only offers "a reproduction code written on your balls," where porn stars are the only ones who truly understand the meaning of life: you either have a cock or a hole, and those with holes go through life wishing they had cocks, so they hop from one cock to the next hoping to make up for this. [This is the butcher's stance, not mine now--M.B. note] Not to mention, he comes to to conclusion while sitting in a seedy porno theater by himself.

Also worth noting is how Noe depicts the spewing-hatred of the butcher, in extended monologues, a la Spike Lee's The 25th Hour, one even taking place in front of a mirror, with the butcher pointing a gun into the looking glass. I wonder if Spike Lee ever saw I Stand Alone? I doubt it, but it begs to wonder. In the same comparative breath, Taxi Driver came to mind throughout I Stand Alone, for good reasons. Both involve the downward mental spirals of men who feel left out by society, and out of touch with an ever-changing social landscape.

The most daring piece of trickery used by Noe here, however, comes toward the end, right before the jaw-dropping climax. Perhaps in an unexpected bit of audience compassion, though I highly doubt it, Noe offers up a black-screen ATTENTION sign, and warns those watching that "you have 30 seconds to leave this screening of the film," as a ticker then counts down, while the butcher continues to tear apart his reality. I braced myself, expecting something even Satan would cringe at. What happens, while not as oh-my-God as I was anticipating, is pretty sick. Not to spoil the whole wow-shebang, but it involves what the butcher does to his daughter--whom he's taken out of the institution for a visit-focused day, and brought back to a hotel--in an effort to rid of her the pain he's directy and indirectly caused upon her. Let's just say: incest ensues, then use of a handgun at point-blank range, and then a severely-demented, conscience-versus-man war of words sends the surviving person into a dizzying state of inner anarchy. The way Noe stages the whole sequence is like repeated UFC-fighter-kicks to the cranium, yet is impossible to stop watching.


And then suddenly, a kinda-happy-yet-still-rather-depraved twist is revealed, one that works only because it doesn't abandon the film's overall sense of bad taste.

I Stand Alone is a fucking bleak ride. Not a horror film, at all, but psychological drama of the darkest caliber. Presented in a renegade way, and hard to shake off once the end credits roll. The best word I can jot down to describe Noe as a filmmaker is "dangerous." I Stand Alone isn't as splendid as Irreversible in my eyes, but its still a potent, sleeper winner.

Give me something new to OD on, Mr. Noe. I'll be far-from-patiently waiting.

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