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I Stand Alone (Gaspar Noť) 1998

   

    Itís not often that I feel itís necessary to play the moral repugnance card that seems popular with many film critics when discussing controversial fare, but I think with I Stand Alone Gaspar Noťís portrait of a sociopathic, French ex-butcher, Iíll have to do just that. Itís not that I was disturbed by the movie, though, so much as disturbed by its intentions. Noť takes us inside the twisted mind of his protagonist here, but he never attempts to examine it, since to do so would require a perspective that would take us outside of this point of view. For the duration of the movie, weíre stuck, for better or worse, down in the muck with him, and after spending ninety minutes with him we donít exactly have a deeper understanding than we had a few minutes in. The film is often compared to Scorseseís Taxi Driver, since both filmís feature a supremely alienated lead who narrates his disgust with society, but Scorsese wrapped his tale up in an ironic wit that provided a bit of release to those in the audience that didnít sympathize with Travis Bickle. Noť doesnít do anything of the sort here, and while that is certainly aesthetically brave, it doesnít give the audience anything to think about besides the drone of his anti-heroís thoughts. Watching the film, I realized that I could withstand nearly any amount of exploitation of the characters in a film, so long as I myself didn't feel I was being exploited by the director. I don't mind feeling uncomfortable as long as I know that I'll have some sort of understanding or reward at the end of my torment, but Noť doesn't uphold his end of that bargain here. By the end of the film, I had become numb to their content due to overexposure, and since the movie lost it visceral kick (even Noťís shock tactics Ė most notably a randomly sounded gunshot / quick pan - are repeated until theyíre impotent) it lost its ability to make me feel I was experiencing an altered reality. It simply felt like I was watching a director attempting to impress me (a feeling hammered home when an intertitle warns the squeamish members of the audience to flee before it ratchets the action up a gear), and since he had to resort to such extremes as racism, incest, violent murder, and misogyny to do so, I resented it.

   

    Noť apparently expanded this material from a forty minute short, and it shows in its thematic simplicity. Though the filmmaking is undeniably impressive at times, it doesnít have anything that most viewers could relate to morally for most of its running time. Its constant voiceover track, which provides an endless stream of profanity and racism, left me mildly uncomfortable, but mostly it left me a bit bored and numbed. Even worse though, in the last few minutes, the movie attempts to make its lead sickly sympathetic, and the results are disastrous. The music swells, and the camera pulls away, suggesting thereís a bit of humanity residing in the protagonist, but if weíre to accept this compassionate view, we need to forget the previous hour and a half, which I imagine most people wonít be willing to do. Why most people would be willing to sit through this film is beyond me, especially since Noť canít sustain the shock that he initially achieves.  Certainly, there are visual pleasures in I Stand Alone, but they donít redeem the depraved heart that beats at the center of the film.

 

* 1/2 

06-30-02 

Jeremy Heilman