Gaspar Noe has made two theatrical films, one is Irreversible which I've heard much about but yet to see (and due to my ironic curiosity now I may just see),and this one called I Stand Alone. With this film he tackles the man-going-mentally-down-the-tubes, but perhaps I missed something Noe was trying to grapple with. Actually, I don't think I did: Noe wants to make an iconoclastic vision of a man, here called just the Butcher, in a subjectively-told story of a man in a downward spiral of his life being just total s***, not finding a job in a proverbial wintry economic climate, and thinking over and over again about blowing people who raise their voices to him into smithereens. He did this, but he also created it in such a way that it is- and this is perhaps much too much praise for the filmmaker- inherently controversial as an "art" film. It will split audiences. This time I take the 'I hated it' route.
Here's why: for all of Noe's possible talents with a camera, in just setting up a shot or getting an actor to act this way or that, or writing the narration in such a way that it becomes a jambalaya of rambling and nihilism, his subject matter is repulsive without a single, slight portal for a viewer to come in on the proceedings. It isn't even that he didn't make a repulsive movie and didn't even attain his intended goals ala Meir Zarchi with I Spit on Your Grave. I'm sure he's proud of every *jolt* of a camera movement, every sudden and repetitive and redundant momentary lapse in a frame with a pounding beat of music, and for the icy performance from big lug Philipe Nahon. But unlike the most repeated comparison by other viewers to Taxi Driver, there's nothing else for the audience to latch on to aside from the droning, monotonous lava of dread and self/outward loathing of the Butcher. And after a short while, despite Noe's attempts at shock tactics... it gets boring.
So boring that, even with the risk of getting punched by the big lug-that-needs-a-hug, if one met him in the street the first reaction if tapped into his thoughts might be "waa, waa, waa!" Now, I should make it clear, this isn't to deride the plight of this Butcher and his hard-knock life since being an orphan and having a crappy wife etc etc. But there was not a moment that there was any connection with the Butcher, no real emotion aside from loathing the pretentious and obvious narration from Noe that attempts a kind of rigorous existential poetry but comes off as meandering. And then when Noe really attempts to make this a really savage ride into hell he revels in a cheap provocation method that at best is like low-rent Godard and at worst is just, well, tacky. Right before the much talked-about scene with Butcher's daughter occurs (won't spoil but it's a double twist that starts off as interesting and ends sloppily),we get a *Warning* to leave the theater before this next scene. Is this to tempt us, or even a threat? To really provoke us why even bother with the warning? If there's anything to learn from Bunuel it's that superb artistic shock is in the eye of the surprised.
As I said, this isn't exactly the worst film I've ever seen. There are moments that do disturb, but it's sometimes thanks merely to Nahon's stunted facial expressions. But despite, or perhaps in spite of, all its high-minded artistic and experimental aspirations, I never felt truly shaken or rattled by this man's depths of darkness and depravity. It's an accomplishment that may appeal to some looking for stone-cold depressing film-making, and has. I wish I could say the same, yet it's just bile upon narrative first-person bile strand that doesn't go anywhere aside from boredom and feeling exploited.