Monday, May 18, 2015
2015 Cannes Marathon: I Stand Alone
(Winner of the International Critic’s Week Award at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival)
Written and directed by Gaspar Noe, Seul contre tous (I Stand Alone) is the story of a butcher whose life unravels through unemployment and rejection following an attempt to start all over. The film is a sequel/expanded version of Noe’s 1991 short film Carne that plays into the tumultuous life of an un-named butcher played by Philippe Nahon. Also starring Blandine Lenoir, Frankye Pain, and Martine Audrain. Seul contre tous is a dark yet intensely compelling film from Gaspar Noe.
Set in 1980 in Northern France, the film revolves an un-named butcher who tries to start over following years of being in prison, over accusations that he had raped his young and mute daughter, only to be rejected by the people that was supposed to help him as well as society. It’s a film that isn’t just about isolation but also a film that plays into a man who is trying to start a new life with his mistress and her mother as he hopes to open a butcher shop. Instead, things don’t go his way as he is forced to deal with changes in the world and other things as his attempts to conform would only have him become angry. Gaspar Noe’s script is quite simple as it plays into the butcher trying to return to the world but a world that has changed.
Yet, simple acts of being good would have him be misunderstood by his own mistress (Frankye Pain) who would treat him very cruelly. The only person in the butcher’s life that meant anything to him is his daughter Cynthia (Blandine Lenoir) as she has been institutionalized since the day when the butcher went to prison. The film’s first eight-to-ten minutes doesn’t just explain why the butcher went to prison but also about his own life as a child and as a young adult as it has been often marked tragedies and other events that prevented him from trying to fit in to what society wants. The film also has very provocative themes on the idea of morality and justice as the film begins with men talking about these ideas and how it often favors the rich as it plays into Noe’s own commentary about class.
Noe’s direction is quite stylish not just through his approach to close-ups and zoom lenses where they can abruptly go into extreme close-ups. With its usage of wide lenses and wide shots, Noe aims for something where it plays into a man who feels detached from society as he tries to be part of it. Noe’s usage of medium and wide shots to play into the butcher’s world and the sense of discomfort he has around his mistress and her mother would create the tension that would loom over the butcher. Adding to the story’s offbeat tone is the fact that it is largely told by the butcher in a voice-over narration where it’s really more internal monologue that plays into his frustration towards the world and people around him. Some of the dialogue that Noe would say has a lot of things that are quite extreme as even scenes of violence such as a moment where the butcher stands up and beats up his pregnant mistress is a very brutal moment. The idea of violence is very prevalent as its third act not only relates to the butcher finally wanting to lash out but also cope with a world that rejects him. Overall, Noe creates a very unsettling yet confrontational film about a man’s attempt to find redemption only to face loneliness in a cruel world.
Cinematographer Dominique Colin does excellent work with the film‘s sepia-drenched photography that is filled with bright red and yellow colors with elements of grain as it plays into the dark world that the butcher is in. Editors Gaspar Noe and Lucile Hadzihalilovic do brilliant work with the editing with its stylish cutting and abrupt approach to jump-cuts and transitions as it helps play into the film‘s confrontational tone. Special makeup work by Jean-Christophe Spadccini is terrific for the look of some of the characters including the butcher‘s mistress who looks quite grotesque. The sound work of Jean-Luc Audy, Valerie Deloof, Olivier Do Huu, and Olivier Le Vacon is fantastic to play into some of the transitions as well as some of the chaos that goes on in some of the film’s location. The film’s soundtrack features ambient music from Thierry Durbet and Bruno Alexiu as well as some classical pieces to play into the butcher’s struggles.
The film’s amazing cast features notable small roles from Zaven as a man talking about morality in the film’s opening scene, Gerard Ortega as a bar owner the butcher threatens, Alain Pierre as the bar owner’s son, Roland Gueridon as an old friend of the butcher who tries to get him work, and Martine Audrain as the mistress’ mother who takes advantage of the butcher’s attempt to be helpful. Frankye Pain is excellent as the butcher’s mistress who was supposed to be the woman who would support him in opening a butcher shop as she then takes advantage of him and treat him very cruelly. Blandine Lenoir is fantastic as the butcher’s daughter Cynthia as a traumatized mute who represents the rare form of innocence in the life of the butcher as she only appears in the film’s final moments. Finally, there’s Philippe Nahon in a riveting performance as the un-named butcher as a man trying to start over only to fall apart as he becomes angry and frustrated with the world as he brings a performance that is absolutely terrifying.
Seul contre tous is a remarkable film from Gaspar Noe that features a haunting performance from Philippe Nahon. The film is definitely not an easy one to watch in terms of its graphic language and themes but also for the fact that it plays into a man being pushed to the edge by society. In the end, Seul contre tous is a phenomenal film from Gaspar Noe.
Gaspar Noe Films: Carne - Irreversible - Enter the Void - Love (2015 film) - Climax (2018 film) - (Lux Aeterna) - (Vortex (2021 film) - The Auteurs #48: Gaspar Noe
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