Thursday, March 24, 2005

You Have 30 Seconds to Leave the Cinema (I Stand Alone)

Yesterday I watched the film I Stand Alone by director Gaspar Noe, the man who brought the world Irreversible, one of the most intense and technically brilliant films ever made. I was a bit underwhelmed by this, and I think the reason for that might be the expectations I had going into the film. I saw Irreversible over the summer and it blew me away. I was expecting a really brutal film, and it delivered on that account, but after I got over the intensity of the film what was really astonishing was the use of the medium. The film is a series of about eight long take scenes, each about ten minutes, all linked together seamlessly via editing. There are no cuts in a 90 minute film. Noe uses this device in a variety of ways, and each sequence of the film is dazzling. The opening 'Rectum' scene has the camera moving all around in such a way that you're disoriented, and the quick flashes of violence leave the viewer feeling really uncomfortable. You really get the sense of a descent into hell, which is heightened by the music.

In the infamous ten minute long rape scene, Noe just puts the camera in one place and lets you observe how awful this violent act really is. In most films, extreme violence like that is cut away from, sort of taking you off the hook and you have an idea of how bad it is, but you don't get to witness it for yourself. What the film does is first present you with an act of revenge without context, the beating with the fire extinguisher at the beginning of the film. When I first saw that, I was really disgusted, but then after you see the awfulness of the rape scene, you understand what they were feeling, and want the characters to take that revenge. But, by removing the revenge from an emotional context, you can understand that the act of revenge doesn't do anything, it just causes further problems and leads to all the character's lives being destroyed.

Noe's movement of the camera is unbelievable, going outside and inside, and moving in ways I've never seen a camera move before, particularly in the scene where Alex is walkng down the red tunnel. The party scene is another unbelievable sequence, as Noe's extended take gives you the feeling of walking around the party yourself and getting a sense of the scene. It's not like this party was being staged for our benefit as the viewer, it's like we happened to wander into a party in progress. That shot was so complicated Noe ends up using a take where Vincent Cassel first calls himself Vincent, then remembers his character name and says he's just kidding. The actors are amazing in the movie, which was largely improvised.

Then, Noe uses an unbroken take towards the end of the film to convey the warmth of the relationship between Alex and Marcus. By observing a regular day for them, you get a real sense of how good things were, which makes the beginning of the film even more tragic. Time does indeed destroy all in this world.

I Stand Alone is definitely a film you should see before Irreversible, if only because after watching Irreversible, it can't measure up in terms of shock value. But, in a lot of ways it's more disturbing. Irreversible is about fundamentally good characters who have awful things happen to them. I Stand Alone is about an awful character who maybe gets a happy ending at the end of the film. It's tough to engage with a film whose protagonist is so distasteful, and this man clearly is. Even though we know his background, it doesn't make him seem any more human. He's someone who exists in his own bubble, deluded by memories of his daughter and the life he once led.



The film uses voiceover in an interesting way, to really put you in the head of the character, and it's not a nice place to be. He's racist and homophobic and prone to urges of extreme violence. I thlink what's so tough to take is the fact that he seems on the surface like a fairly ordinary guy, but the further you get into the film, the extent of his psychosis is revealed.

I didn't really enjoy the film, and I think that's partially because you have no anchor, nothing outside of this guy to latch on to. He's the only character who's really developed, and he's a difficult character to engage with. In addition, I think the pacing of the film is a bit too slow. After the incidents with his mistress, the Butcher basically wanders around for 45 minutes, before we get to the meat of the film in the last 20. Those last 20 minutes were great, but I wish the film had spent more time there, and less on him just going around Paris, being annoyed. I guess another problem might be this film touches on similar territory as Oldboy, and I think Oldboy made the situation more interesting and complex than it is here.

While this is nowhere near the technical tour de force that is Irreversible, it's a very well made film with a lot of interesting cinematic techniques. He does frequent zooms punctuated by a loud noise that are unsettling and keep you on edge. My favorite moment of the film is when a title appears stating "You have 30 Seconds to Leave the Cinema," and proceeds to count down those seconds. Strangely, it doesn't take you out of the film, as most extra-textual devices do, but instead deepens the suspense and leaves you wondering, what could possibly live up to this title. Unfortunately, what does occur pales in comparison to Irreversible, so the title seems unwarranted. That said, it is a great, really emotional scene, and disturbing too. My favorite scene was the Butcher trying to comfort his daughter, as the Pachabel Canon plays in the background. The ending of the film gives him an oddly happy ending, and I liked that fact, since it leaves you very unsettled. Regardless of the film's virtues, I felt really uncomfortable watching it, so I'll give it that.



So, Irreversible is basically about the ways that the world destroys good people, while this film is about a bad person who somehow finds a piece of good within the world, though as we see in Irreversible, when the character reappears, it doesn't last long. Even though I didn't really connect with I Stand Alone, I can respect what Noe was trying to do, and I think he succeeds. However, the film is so visually oppressive, with crushingly dull colors, I found it tough to take. Irreversible may have scenes of awful extreme violence, but it also is shot in a really exciting way, and has some beautiful scenes. ISA is a really well made film, but the production design isn't particuarly interesting, and without a strong emotional hook, or cool looking environments, you're left with just the awful life of this character, which may have been exactly the point.

1 comment:

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