SEUL CONTRE NOUS (I STAND ALONE)
DIRECTOR: GASPAR NOE
COUNTRY: FRANCE 1998
CINEMATOGRAPHY: DOMINIQUE COLIN
CAST: Philippe Nahon, Blandine Lenoir
SUPER FEATURES: Is this reality, or neo-realism? Is a live butcher shop on the stage in the theater the only way we will wake up to "reality"?
(Seen at the 22nd Portland International Film Festival in Portland, Oregon)
Several years ago, another film maker came around, and went to work doing things that no one else did, in a manner that no one else did, with little regard for how we felt, or how we would react to the picture that he had made. He became the darling of sur-neo-realism, if there is such a thing, in that his films were always strange, obscure, but always managed to make a point by the way things appeared in the film. Not at all because he wanted to create a philosophy, or a thinking, about anything he did. But his intuitive side of things, created a harrowing reality for movie go'ers. How is one supposed to feel about these things?
No sooner had the director heard us discussing his stuff and us believing he was making a film because ... , he concluded that he didn't want "...to make a film about politics. He just wanted to make a political film...", where the situations and people took on themselves, be them actors or not. Not a story, not a foolish Hollywood fantasy, but something that might get a solid reaction out of us. In other words, he DID NOT make film to tell us how he felt, or how we are supposed to feel. To this day, I believe that this film really helped define something in film the world over, that few of us may really understand. This may be the same mentality that gave us the Reign of Terror, but 30 years later, what has it arrived to? The same, and more. The film maker was Jean-Luc Godard. This film delivers a Reign of Terror, but one that we may not wish to deal with.
I would imagine that for anyone unfamiliar with these kinds of things, a film like this is a massive shocker. This film never stops at the words, or
just a symbol or an idea. It plunges right ahead, in front of us, and brutally so. It's hard to fathom that anyone would be this bitter, or disappointed in life, to create such a film, and such an experience for any audience to sit through. But it will get your attention if you can sit
In the fifties, it took the acting of those now known as giants in the Acting Studio, and the English Angry Young Men to express the displeasure that many of us have in the society we live in. In the sixties, it seemed that drugs and music were the channels for the same thing, of which Godard also took part, although differently so. The seventies and eighties were sedate by comparison. Then in the nineties, one sees something like this and it makes one wonder, if things in France are in such a stupor and such an edge, that another revolution may be in the offing. A film like this, is a vicious attack on the social mold that has pretty much destroyed the worker, or at least this man. It's hard to imagine that this is just a "film", and that its power stops at "film". How real is all this? How close to reality is it really? How much of this is the man's imagination? One can hear psychologists blaming the man's problems on his inability to blah, blah, blah. And society as a whole can not be at fault. Or one can hear film critics attacking these things as not films, or the favorite American word (heaven forbid) - Entertainment.
The story is simple enough, as if there were any need for a story to be there at all when one thinks about it. A man that had grown up being a
butcher, all of a sudden finds himself out of work, and not in favor with anyone. He has just finished serving jail time for an incident, when he
thought that a man had raped his daughter, when in fact it had been her time of the month. His return from jail to society, was not favorable. He takes on a mistress, and one day leaves her and her mother, after making an awful mess of things. As his anger builds, he finds the need in himself to go visit his daughter and perhaps reclaim her from the institution that she is in. And the film kinda stops here, though the man's mind doesn't.
And here is the astounding part of this film, the most difficult thing to deal with as it is totally uncensored in any way, shape or form -- a film that would get a guaranteed X rating in this country if it went beyond the portals of Film Festivals. It's a wonder that it got that far unnoticed,
that's for sure. Right from the start, we are treated to the man's story and his opinions. The question is where is his temper and mind going to take him. The inevitable suggestion, is that he is strong and capable of doing something horrible, and the film seems to make it clear that he does just that with his mistress, but in the end, it gives us the total opposite. Maybe he did not do what the film showed he did to the mistress since he could just as easily have done a similar thing here to his daughter.
So, in the end, all we can think is that most of it has taken place in his mind, or at least we hope so, because it is hard to believe that he could
not control himself well enough to learn the harsh lessons that life has to offer ... well, I imagine that we in the audience want to think so, because seeing something that brutal usually merits very stiff penalties in the societies that we live in. He is visibly angry, but it is not like he does not remember the silly affair that got him in jail. Or that he would be stupid enough to follow through on his murderous vision and mind.
Few films, ever, are so powerful, and do not stop pulling their punches for a minute, so the audience can take a deep breath. It is difficult to think of this film as bad, since the design and concept is well thought out, and extremely well done. It may not be our favorite theme, or film, but it is very hard to dismiss its obvious points. Most films can only give "opinions" by comparison. This one punches your gut with it with its realism.
This is one of those films that is best seen by those that have a stomach for harsh stuff. This film is harsh and then some. Sort of like the day we saw Sam Peckinpah do the killing spree in slow motion, so we could witness the mass orgy of madness that we take ourselves into - that we refuse to learn, or accept and continually repeat in so many countries the world over. Our love affair with hate, and destruction. Or our belief that something is more important than another, to the point where human life is secondary to the cause. And maybe this is the point that Gaspar Noe wants to make, which the character mentions. We have become too weak and have no courage to do something about it as a country anymore. We have resigned, and are left with nothing but an act of animalistic desire that allows us to cleanse ourselves for a small period of time. But with all due respect, to this point of view, could this be a sign of the serious dissatisfaction with the way things are shaping up in France? Or in many parts of the world, hidden by toys that we think make us happier?
Very powerful film that is not for the weak stomach. Very brutal, mentally and physically so. A film that really could be said speaks for our angers much more than we care to admit.
4 of 5 GIBLOONS
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