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I Stand Alone (May 4/03)

Say what you will about Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone - the film's been designed to turn off the majority of viewers - but there is absolutely no denying that it's completely unique and mostly compelling.

The focus of the movie is a character known only as The Butcher (Philippe Nahon), a bitter and vitriolic man that seemingly hates everything and everyone. Through voice over, we hear exactly what's bothering him at any given moment - and there's always something bothering him. As the film begins, he's living with his expecting girlfriend and her mother - both of whom, of course, he hates. Their constant nagging finally becomes too much for him to handle, and he eventually snaps. After pummeling his girlfriend's very pregnant stomach, The Butcher makes a hasty getaway and decides to head to his hometown. Once there, he finds that unemployment is running rampant - which gives him yet another subject to complain about.

There's no doubt that a lot of people who watch I Stand Alone will be baffled; there's not much of a storyline, and the film occasionally seems like a very long diatribe. By the time the end credits begin to roll, you'll honestly feel as though you've just read a book - there's that much narration. What saves the film from becoming an all-out bore, then, is Noe's audacious sense of style. He punctuates certain lines of dialogue with a quick zoom accompanied by the sound of a gunshot; it's an odd trick that takes a while to get used to, but it works. And while I Stand Alone is practically a Garry Marshall film compared to Irreversible, Noe's controversial rape flick from last year, it's the captivating visuals and inexplicably intriguing screenplay that propels the story forward.

The script, written by Noe, isn't exactly linear - The Butcher's thoughts essentially control the direction of the plot - but he certainly has a knack for writing dialogue. It's not entirely easy to listen to what The Butcher has to say, though, as the majority of what he's thinking about it based on hatred and sadness. Nothing seems to have worked out in his life, and he's placed the blame on everyone except himself. This guy makes Archie Bunker look like Big Bird, since even Archie had a few friends and even a wife. The Butcher can't understand how anyone can be happy, and as he mentions at one point, if he spots anyone that looks even slightly gregarious, he becomes sick to his stomach. He's an absolutely unique character, and Noe should be applauded for committing such a vile human being to celluloid (not to mention making him the focus of a film).

But be forewarned: there are several segments in I Stand Alone that are tough to take. The savage beating of The Butcher's pregnant girlfriend is the most obvious cringe-worthy sequence, but an attempted reconciliation between The Butcher and his autistic daughter is equally disturbing (Noe even offers the audience a chance to leave the film before anything happens, the only time one of Noe's innovations becomes distracting). If you're willing to see it through, though, I Stand Alone will not easily be forgotten - and in this day and age, that's an incredibly rare thing.

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© David Nusair