Film Review: I STAND ALONE (AKA Seul Contre Tous) (1998)

Film Review: I STAND ALONE (AKA Seul Contre Tous) (1998)

Jun 7, 2016

The 1990’s witnessed the birth of a new wave of French film, true artistic extremism. Many directors were taking brave new steps of expression, pushing the envelope to lengths art house had never seen before. One of the finest examples of this new wave of art house is Gaspar Noé.

Well known for his films Irréversible and Enter the Void, Gaspar transcends the rules of conventional film of his predecessors. While Gaspar’s films don’t shy away from the surreal, they never fail to show a brutal view of reality.  What stands out about Gaspar’s work isn’t that they are disturbing or weird, it’s how he portrays the world around him in a way that is unique and almost unmatched. Noé truly shocked the mainstream with his second feature film, Irréversible. A harrowing, unforgiving look into the shattered remnants from a night of tragedy and vengeance. Before Irréversible burst onto the scene however, Gaspar’s first film I Stand Alone (Seul Contre Tous) had built quite the reputation in the art house community. Seul Contre Tous is without a doubt one of the finest displays of cinema I have ever seen.

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Sadly, I feel Seul Contre Tous does not get the recognition it deserves, and, to an extent, is overshadowed by Gaspar’s more mainstream work. Definitely his most grounded film in the surreal sense, Seul Contre Tous is very much of a true film, almost frighteningly realistic. Gaspar paints a portrait of the struggle of a nameless butcher, hard boiled from an unforgiving life. Much like his other films, Gaspar does not shy away from showing the brutal nature of society. The butcher (played by Philippe Nahon), is a nameless, bleak, remorseless, cold, circumspect. There is a narration of the film that comes solely from the mind of the butcher, not a conscience per-say, but a look inside what is running through his head as he trudges through the reality he has to face. His words show you his reasoning, his inner most feeling, the turmoil that plagues him. Philippe Nahon’s acting coupled with the narration in the film shows so much emotion, even if it was buried deep within the man. Nahon’s performance is poignant, intimidating, he portrays someone cold hearted and detached, and yet, strikes such a gripping, emotional role. The Butcher is easily my favorite film character from the French art house era.

Seul Contre Tous drops you in at a particularly hard time in the life of the butcher, his breaking point. Throughout his life of hardship, he has become a cast iron shell, sovereign from the society that has molded him. We see a glimpse of the butcher’s tenderness in the face of mortality, staring death in the face, perhaps he sees his chance for freedom. The butcher endures losing his only means of stability and independence, trapped under the thumb of people that suppress him, a society that has no place for him. When the butcher finally breaks free from his stranglehold, he is treated with a cold embrace. The Butcher lashes out his aggression onto the world with fury and anger. His onslaught starts with what many would consider a truly heinous act, and leads him down a desolate path of isolation, and disappointment. The Butcher shows no mercy or sympathy for others, he is not likable, but, we still feel sympathetic for him. Throughout Seul Contre Tous, The Butcher commits horrible acts, but the viewer cannot help but lament for his situation, something that I don’t think many films have been able to orchestrate so efficiently.

One of the most remarkable things about I Stand Alone was how well everything was executed. The setting reflected the Butcher, desolate and frigid, frightening. The whole atmosphere of the film is very nihilistic, hopeless in a way. It is as if everyone in the film is confined into a life of destitution.

The cinematography is flawless, as always with Gaspar’s work. One of Gaspar’s most defining features in his work is the truly unique way he edits his films. Gaspar’s filmmaking and editing has proven to be very iconic, Seul Contre Tous (as well as his previous short Carne) was where he first started to hone in on his style.

I recommend that aspiring filmmakers and fans alike watch Seul Contre Tous, not only to see the birth of a director’s visual style, but to compare how he used it over time. Seul Contre Tous is an amazing film, a very important piece on morality and society. I would go as far as to call Seul Contre Tous a nihilistic masterpiece, easily my favorite film from Gasper Noe. Seul Contre Tous is harsh and unforgiving, a cinematic experience not to skip on.