I Stand Alone

08/18/2019 12:39

Film: I Stand Alone (Seul contre tous)

Year: 1998

Director: Gaspar Noé

Writer: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Philippe Nahon, Blandine Lenoir and Frankie Pain



This was a film that I’m going to be honest, I had never heard of. I have seen the writer/director Gaspar Noé’s other films so I was intrigued as this is his feature film debut. Wasn’t necessarily sure what I was going to get coming in though if I’m perfectly honest. I’ve now given it a second watch as part of the Summer Challenge Series for the Podcast Under the Stairs as a potential selection.

Synopsis: a horse meat butcher’s life and mind begins to breakdown as he lashes out against various factions of society while trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

We are given a voice-over of the life of a Le Boucher (Philippe Nahon). It is a tragic story of how his parent’s conceived him and how he lost everything. He had his own butcher shop, but one day his daughter who is mute had her first period. She tried to walk to his shop where a man came on to her. Her father thought he raped her and he stabbed the man to death. This sent him to prison and he lost his business with his daughter going to an institution.

Once he gets out, he takes a job in a bar that is run by Sa Maitresse (Frankie Pain). They end up becoming a couple and she is with child. She sells her bar to move to another city and stay with her mother. She tells our lead that she’ll use the money to buy a shop for him. When it comes time, she thinks it’s a bad deal and refuses to pay for the lease. Le Boucher goes down a path where Sa Maitresse and her mother, Sa Belle-Mere (Martine Audrain) belittle him or at least he thinks they are. He is beaten down by what they say as well as how society treats him. He snaps and tries to make his own way, but it isn’t easy for a 50-year-old man with a criminal record and no money.

Now I decided to go a little vaguer on the recap here, as there’s not a lot that happens. We are watching this man as he goes down a dark path. The film has voice-over from Le Boucher and there’s not a lot of dialogue. It is mostly giving his thoughts on what happens around him or what he thinks. It is quite depressing. I was thinking about if this was a horror film during my viewing. To be honest, it isn’t in the normal sense. I’ll get into why this can be considered horror with some of the things that are happening. When it comes to Noé, he doesn’t make films in the traditional sense as he’s avant-garde.

The first thing to cover is that I felt bad for Le Boucher. His life has really been a struggle and he hasn’t had a lot of good things happen to him. The mother of his daughter, Sa Fille (Blandine Lenoir), left him due to their child’s affliction. He is doing his best and the big issue is his anger. He snapped when he thought something happened to his child. I can’t fault him for getting revenge, but it was done to someone that didn’t do what he thought. The rage he went into was in error. He just wants to be able live a normal life, but he doesn’t have the breaks needed to do so.

That moves me into the next point. This is looking at class as well. Le Boucher is talking about how the rich get whatever they need. They can commit the crimes he has, but because they have money, they get away with it. He on the other hand must be careful. Whatever he does, he will be punished for. There’s not a lot of money to be had around him and that includes jobs. Even those that he is friends with can’t help him as they barely have enough money for them. This is a bleak way of looking at life and is heartbreaking if I’m honest. It makes me think there was a recession in France as this movie is set in 1980 so everyone in the middle class and below were struggling too.

He isn’t always sympathetic though. Le Boucher does things that I despise him for. I commend Noé for complicating this character. He has created a character that was I pulling for, but then he reveals things about him that are despicable. He attacks his pregnant girlfriend. He makes racist comments toward a couple of different races. There are homophobic comments he uses and what he wants to do with his daughter is horrific. I liked to be challenged when watching a film. This does well at portraying a despicable character that I hate and pity. Part of it is that he is lashing out after being broken by life, which I get. It is hard to pull for a guy with these things.

I want to move next to the soundtrack. To be honest, I didn’t notice it outside of a scene where he hitchhikes and the guy puts on upbeat house-like music. I thought that scene was fun. I had an issue with the amount of voice-over narration that we get throughout. I don’t normally hate it, but here it just dominates everything. With this second watch though, I get it more. Noé is giving us a morality tale and making us think. This is a character study of Le Boucher so we are given his thoughts as he moves through these events. There is also this sound that is jarring. I don’t hate it, but I did think it was overused. It did well in focusing your attention to something on the screen which was effective.

Where I’ll go next is that I find it interesting that despite a 90-minute runtime, this is a slow-burn. It does build tension. That aspect of the film is good. I could feel as things get worse. Le Boucher is running out of money and turns to crime to survive. It made me think how far he’d go. The ending has something that I didn’t care for and seeing how it ends is kind of disgusting. It does question morality. The question is also there, do we hate him for what he’s going to do, but is it living in the low-income area make it more acceptable? I fall in the camp that I end up despising him to be honest.

Something I didn’t have an issue with was the performance of Nahon. He is the only character we see for the whole film. I think he did a lot with facial expressions. He visits someone who tells him he looks rough and he does. He gives off that vibe as a man who has been beaten down by life and I do have to say is sad. The rest of the cast does round out for what is needed.

The last thing to cover would be the effects, which are good. Noé has a way of using practical effects that makes you question if what you’re seeing is real or not. I know that it’s not, but if you can make me think it is, you’re doing something right. The ending sequence does it and it is great. There aren’t a lot of effects outside of that. I do have give him credit for the cinematography. He captured how dirty both cities we are in, which is crazy because one of them is in Paris. It is also fitting that he is talking about World War II and how his father died in a death camp. They’re in a ghetto for all this film, but not like ones during the war. I think he is saying something there with the mirroring of the war and life since.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this film and I think there’s a good message here. Trying to question the morality of someone who you feel bad for while also despising them for their actions and thoughts is intriguing. This makes you think. Would I necessarily call this horror? Not in the traditional sense, but we are watching an avant-garde film from someone who doesn’t do things conventional. It is extremely bleak and the things that happen can be quite horrific in the terms of society. I do think that the voice-over narration is a bit much and makes the message he’s going for a bit heavy fisted. I think Nahon performance was great and his look just fits the character. There’s not a lot in the way of effects, but the final sequence have some amazing practical ones. It is also shot very well and capturing the grittiness of the areas it is taking place. I don’t love this film, but it’s good. It won’t be for everyone. I would say that overall, it is above average for me.


My Rating: 7 out of 10