I Stand Alone
1998, NR, 93 min. Directed by Gaspar Noé. Starring Philippe Nahon, Blandine Lenoir, Frankye Pain, Martine Audrain.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 24, 1999
It's a good thing that when they reopened the tower on the UT campus this month they added those protective suicide bars because when I Stand Alone opens for a limited run this week at the Dobie Theatre across the street from the university, this movie has the potential to kick-start a whole new generation of jumpers. With this warning, you've been given due notice that this highly disturbing French film is not for the weak-hearted. I Stand Alone is, however, a movie whose shocks fall like assaults on human complacency and whose bile-filled content congeals on the surface and emulsifies before your very eyes. Director Gaspar Noé has created a dour and hate-filled lead character with whom he allows us to identify and then rubs our noses in the stench of these implications. Much of the story is related in an ongoing voiceover monologue by the lead character, an unnamed French butcher who, in his opening words, describes his story as “the life of a sorry chump.” I Stand Alone is the first feature film by Noé, but the story picks up at the point at which his prize-winning short film “Carne” (1991) ended. The butcher's backstory, however, is repeated in a summarizing montage at the beginning of I Stand Alone. A horsemeat butcher with his own shop in Paris, he fathers a child with a young worker, who abandons father and daughter after the child's birth. Years pass and he raises the girl, who is mute, until the day her first period begins. Unfamiliar with what is happening, she goes to her father's store, but, seeing the blood, the butcher assumes she has been sexually assaulted and knifes an innocent bystander. The girl goes to an institution and he goes to jail. Once out, he loses his shop and takes a job in a bar, where he impregnates the rich owner. They decide to go to the north of France, live with her mother, and open a new shop. As I Stand Alone begins, the butcher thinks he's about to embark on the first day of a new life. But it is not to be. Frustrated with the shape his “new life” is taking on, the butcher commits a horrible act of violence and flees back to Paris. Having a gun but very little money, he takes a room at the hotel where his daughter was long ago conceived, and we watch for the train wreck we know is sure to come. Between the film's two violent atrocities toward women and some disturbing footage from a pornographic film, the butcher spews a dizzying monologue that adds homophobic and xenophobic tirades to his misogynistic actions. Noé is telling us something here about the fascistic tendencies of the average Frenchman, who sees human beings as nothing more than “cocks and holes.” Such words as “justice” and “morality” frequently surface, often in textual counterpoint. Wonderfully performed by Philippe Nahon, this butcher is a stolid, seemingly impassive mass with a hair-trigger temper. Justice may come out of the barrel of a gun, and for the butcher happiness may be a warm gun, but I Stand Alone uses a cannon ball to shatter the psychological horror at the heart of human society.