Gaspar Noé Retrospective: ‘I Stand Alone’

Gaspar Noé’s I Stand Alone is a venture into the nihilistic view of a man beyond repair.

CREDIT: Les Cinémas de la Zone

This retrospective series will contain discussions about sexual assault and extreme forms of violence. Reader’s discretion is advised. This is the only warning for this series. Proceed with caution.

I have lots of filmmakers that come to mind that have contributed to my love of cinema, for example, my favorite director of all time is Alejandro González Iñárritu who made my favorite film of all time, Biutiful. I could also bring up Andrei Tarkovsky who directed Stalker which changed my life forever after watching it for the first time. Then there is Gaspar Noé who I truly believe to be the greatest modern director working right now. I have loved his films ever since I discovered Irreversible when I was in college. This has been a series I have been trying to get off the ground for a while now. At first, I wanted to make film essays about his movies but none of those ever get the chance to live on my YouTube channel because of copyright claim issues. On my podcast The Cinema Condition, we have discussed some of his films like Climax and Love. Essentially, I have decided to sit down and finally type these words out to kick off this series. In this series, we will be looking at all his feature films hopefully leading up to the worldwide release of his newest film, Vortex. I really can’t put into words how much his work means to me but here goes nothing.

This film has always been a blindspot in the filmography of the grand French auteur. I Stand Alone is written and directed by Gaspar Noé. The film is a sequel to his short film, Carne, which also includes a lot of the same cast. The film stars the late Philippe Nahon, Blandine Lenoir, and Frankie Pain. This is Noé’s feature film debut after working on only three shorts beforehand.

In the film, we follow the journey of a man that we know simply as, The Butcher (Philippe Nahon). In the first fifteen minutes of the film, we are reminded of the events of Carne along with a refresher on the life of The Butcher. Once we are done catching up, The Butcher is living with his pregnant girlfriend/mistress and her mother. The Butcher is supposed to be opening a shop but his girlfriend backs out due to feeling hesitant. This leaves The Butcher unemployed and on bad terms with his partner. The Butcher finds work but after being accused of cheating on his girlfriend he physically assaults her to the point of possibly killing their unborn child and steals a gun as he abandons them to return to Paris. Our journey with The Butcher continues as he faces rejection after rejection trying to find a job. Along with rejection, he is met with pitty and humiliation by those he used to do business with or consider his friends. All while fighting incestuous thoughts about his daughter who is still at the institution after the events of Carne. The Butcher sets to fight against the laws of the environment that has created him and continues to feed his pessimistic view of life.

I Stand Alone is a solid foundation for the French provocateur to start his career off. Throughout the film, there are parts that Noé will improve upon in his coming work. The use of title cards, interjecting of black screens for a split second, and lighting will be further improved in his later films. Every filmmaker has to start somewhere and even though aspects like his musical choices are not as great as those featured in, Enter The Void, one can still find a way to appreciate what Noé is working with. The film does not work as much as its predecessor but still brings its themes of nihilism to the forefront. Rightfully, even after the credits roll you will continue to think about what Noé is trying to say with I Stand Alone. The film meanders and tries to hammer things we already know about The Butcher from the first act, but it is Noé’s uncompromising style that truly sets the tone of what we will endure through the picture. While this is not his best work it is still a precursor to what Gaspar Noé will dissect about the human condition for years to come.

It is undeniable that this is Gaspar Noé’s homage to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver while still trying to make something different. The Butcher and Travis Bickle could not be any more different characters. Yes, they both share a distaste for their city that stems from a misogynistic, homophobic, and racist view of modern society. Nevertheless, The Butcher is still shown to be human after all, and even though it does not excuse his behavior and thoughts it does leave room to analyze why he is so beyond repair. The growing socio-economic imbalance leaves the working class people like The Butcher to fend for themselves, while those who write the laws get to profit off of the backs of the lower class. It is no surprise that life would feel so pointless in circumstances like these. Maybe, that is what leads us to be so interested in characters like Travis Bickle or The Butcher? They are reflections of the underbelly of what we choose to ignore day by day. We know people like them exist but when do we ever get to talk about the environments that create people like them?

The Butcher is very much an anti-natalist but yet he loves his daughter and truly believes he should be able to express his inappropriate and predatory sense of attraction towards her. The Butcher knows that he should not feel this way towards his flesh and blood but fights his thoughts day in and day out. In a way, Noé does not seem to be making an excuse for incest but is analyzing this along with us while the film is rolling. Noé in a way is speaking through the grotesque nature of I Stand Alone on why even though characters like The Butcher are interesting to analyze they are not to be idolized. They are flawed humans beyond repair. Gaspar Noé raises the question throughout, that if we subscribe to the idea of morality, when will we as humans truly understand the importance of our very existence? Yet those who write the laws based on morality are they any more above us or all we all simply people trying to find a way to comprehend the complex nature of the human condition? There lies the true nature of the overarching theme of Gaspar Noé’s filmography.

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