||I Stand Alone
1999 - unrated - 93 Mins.
|Director: Gaspar Noé|
|Producer: Lucile Hadzihalilovic and Gaspar Noé|
|Written By: Gaspar Noé|
|Starring: Philippe Nahon, Blandine Lenoir, Franckie Pain, Martine Audrain and Jean-Fran |
|Review by: Bill King
I can only admire a director's audacity so much before succumbing to my better senses. For me, Gaspar Noé's "I Stand Alone" crosses the line between bold filmmaking and outright immorality. This is not a terrible movie, but simply immoral. It's got many qualities that, in a better movie, wouldn't be so wasted as they are here. For the duration of the film, we are exposed to the bleakest of minds, a man so tortured and hateful that watching this film is like taking a trip to the darkest recesses of human corruption.
Noé's film is characteristic of a trend I've noticed in French cinema. While the country still produces wonderful films, there is also a darker side, a side that unleashes films drenched with sex and violence. "Romance" (which I walked out of after 20 minutes) and "Baise Moi" (unseen by me) made headlines for their graphic depictions of sex and/or violence. Each new film tries to outdo the last, resulting in the unsettling realization that the worst is still to come.
Philippe Nahon stars as the Butcher. He has no name, and doesn't require one. He has alienated himself from the world so much that his identity means nothing. The film starts with a narration detailing the Butcher's upbringing. He was born to a French communist father and unknown mother. Both were killed soon after his birth during WWII. Searching for a way to get by, the Butcher became, well, a butcher, to support himself. He married a woman and she gave birth to a mute daughter, Cynthia (Blandine Lenior).
Due to reasons unknown, his wife leaves him all alone to raise Cynthia. He rents out a small apartment and operates his own butcher shop in the suburbs. Then his daughter has her first period, and the Butcher mistakenly believes she's been raped and stabs the unfortunate suspect in the face. He is shipped off to prison while Cynthia goes to an institution. He lost everything. She remains mute and barely responsive to anyone. Upon release, the Butcher, now 50 (and in the year 1980), finds work at a bar and meets a mistress (Frankye Pain). They move in together and she becomes pregnant. Her mother-in-law lives with them, and he can't stand her. The mistress promised him she would lease a butcher shop, but she doesn't do so under the agreement they had discussed before.
The Butcher's narration accompanies nearly every scene in the movie, nearly every second that passes by. He is a most reprehensible character, spilling his thoughts on how much life has been unfair to him. His dialogue is full of despair. He goes on and on about how much he hates his mistress, about killing people who cross him. His speeches are filled with pure hatred, nothing more. He hates the world, himself, his mistress's baby, her mother-in-law. He hates the homosexual boss at a meat supplier. He hates the father and son whom he encounters at a bar. He never smiles. He is fired only a few minutes after starting his new job at a deli because he didn't want to smile. His eyes are glowing with madness. As the days go by, he increasingly builds up the rage. After leaving the mistress, the Butcher returns to Paris and walks the streets, visits bars, seeks out old friends. He is nearing the breaking point. He scowls at everyone surrounding him.
In an already depressing film, two scenes will shock everyone, whether you like the film or not. After watching a porno movie (complete with graphic penetration shots), the Butcher goes home to his mistress. His rage grows greater, yelling a string of obscenities, calling her every foul word you can call a woman, before kicking and punching her repeatedly in the stomach, killing her baby. The mistress, who appears to be about six months pregnant, cries profusely while her mother comforts her. His narration is chilling, as he comments that the baby is now hamburger meat, and is better off dead than living with these two liars.
The second shocking scene is the ending, which is so intense that Noé provides a warning at the 1:09 mark, giving viewers 30 seconds to stop watching. I'll give you a warning right now to stop reading if you don't want to know what happens. What happens is sad and distressing. The Butcher checks his daughter out of the institution to take her to the Eiffel Tower. Instead, he takes her to his hotel room, and contemplates whether he should have sex with her and kill her. His justification for the matter is that he wants to make her feel like a woman, to make her happy, just before finishing her off. He figures he's the only one in this world who still cares for her.
Now wait, because there's a second ending. Yes, there are two endings to this film, I think. I'm not sure, because either we are seeing a dream sequence or are in fact given two endings to choose from. One ending has the Butcher kill his daughter after sex, in a ghastly scene. The second ending provides atonement for the Butcher. He doesn't kill his daughter. He breaks down and weeps and embraces his daughter passionately, with classical music playing on the soundtrack. Then the Butcher, through his narration, states that sex with his daughter is the only way for him. It's the only way she can be happy. He says he loves her. It's a powerful love, he tells us.
This presents a grave problem. The Butcher's desires are no doubt sinful, but the movie ends on a rather soothing note. He justifies himself by saying he's doing it out of love. His final words are coupled with a shot of a bright and sunny day. What's going on here? Why are we getting this "upbeat" ending while hearing the Butcher talk about how it's okay for him to have sex with his daughter? This makes for a messy combination. Are we supposed to be happy for him? I should hope that's not what the director is implying.
The best way to review this film is to compare it to another film that deals with a taboo subject. "Kissed," a Canadian film, dealt with a young woman who practiced necrophilia. That film approached its topic with more tact and responsibility. It wasn't an easy film to watch, but at least it didn't imply that her acts should lead to happiness. "I Stand Alone" gives us the Butcher, who arrives at a conclusion that is wrong, but tries to assure us it's right, and we get a sunny ending to reinforce that.
By no means is this a poorly made film. Gaspar Noé is very skilled behind the camera. Philippe Nahon's performance is frightening. The violence is ugly, as it should be. Noé doesn't glamorize anything, but rather he shoves the sickening reality of violence in our faces. These components are wasted, alas, by Noé's inability to garner any meaning from his material. There is simply too much hatred spewing from the Butcher's mouth. He's so miserable and unwholesome that he ceases to be an interesting character to study. We don't pity him or understand him. All we can see is his anger. There is a line, and this movie crossed it.