Thursday 20 September 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 12. I Stand Alone

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

I Stand Alone
Director - Gaspar Noe
Country - France
Year - 1998
Runtime - 93 Minutes

Renowned for his controversial and explicit films, Gaspar Noe is an accomplished and brazen director, who creates thought-provoking and challenging cinema. His first feature length film, I Stand Alone, was a follow-up to his successful short film Carne - an intimate character study of a butcher (Philippe Nahon) who is left to raise his daughter alone when his wife abandons him shortly after the birth. This sequel of sorts builds upon the story established in its predecessor but can be viewed independently of it, as the events depicted in Carne are briefly revisited at the start of I Stand Alone.

Noe’s unique filming style is abrasive yet utterly captivating. He thrives on experimenting with editing techniques and uses well-timed cuts accompanied by harsh sounds to jar the audience and bring a frenetic sense of urgency to the proceedings. This chimes well with the harsh outlook of the butcher, whose frantic outbursts are accompanied by an inner monologue comprised of a seemingly never ending stream of dark, malicious thoughts. We are even given a warning towards the end of the film that this is the last opportunity for us to leave the cinema before I Stand Alone reaches its horrific, provocative climax. It is stylistic choices such as these that heighten both the tension and anticipation and, impressively, Noe’s graphic vision lives up to the expectations that he boldly cultivates from the outset.

Philippe Nahon’s central performance is a phenomenal tour de force; you can sense the inner range seething under the surface as the butcher wrestles with his conscience, and see the anger and frustration in his eyes when he is pushed close to breaking point. It is clear that the butcher cares for his daughter but his sense of justice and morality is skewed and his poor decisions lead him on a downward spiral of violence and bloodshed.

Warnings of the film’s disturbing nature should be heeded. Noe refuses to shy away from showing extreme violence that is far more nauseating than the violence seen in most horror films. The use of blood and gore is not too excessive, and this grounds the stark notions of suffering Noe creates in realism, enhancing the suffocating atmosphere as the film’s harrowing imagery slowly sinks under your skin and claws away at your psyche. The weight of each sickening punch and the impact of each gunshot forces you to recoil as the reverberations shudder through your speakers, culminating in a deeply unsettling assault on the senses that will inevitably leave you shell-shocked.

By the end of this stark, depressing journey into the butcher’s own personal hell you are likely to feel violated and scarred – with certain images burned deep into your retina, never to be unseen. A film as potent as this understandably garners criticism from those with either a conservative or nervous disposition. Yes, I Stand Alone is incredibly disturbing, and even nihilistic in parts, but Noe’s art has meaning and is not exploitation without purpose.

Those who take something from this twisted masterpiece would be highly recommended to seek out Noe’s other films. The infamous Irreversible is an experience that ups the ante even further than I Stand Alone and Enter the Void is unlike anything I have ever seen before, or since. There are not many directors who start their career with such a powerful statement and fewer who continue to provide audiences with a consistent level of artistry as they develop their style over a series of unforgettable and truly mind-blowing films. Gaspar Noe certainly stands alone as a unique voice in extreme cinema, and his shocking debut is still a force to be reckoned with even twenty years after it first left its blistering mark on all who encountered it.

If you take the time to watch I Stand Alone then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

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