Scenes from Gaspar Noé’s “Seul Contre Tous” & “Carne” [1998, 1991 France]

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Gaspar Noé made his first full-length feature, “Seul Contro Tous” [Eng. Trans: Alone Against All, Eng. Title: I Stand Alone] – a deeply affecting portrait of alienation and despair, as a continuation of the story of a down-on-luck and out-of-work butcher from a short he made years earlier, “Carne” (Horse Meat).

To say this is not an easy film to watch is an understatement. At the same time, this film will not only have your complete attention, it will force you to probe the depths of your own innermost anxieties, and compare them with what the protagonist is going through. It makes us realise how close many of us must have come to be clinically labelled ‘mentally ill’ at some point in our lives. For that’s what we see the butcher go through – at times in a more intense and menacing manner than Travis Bickle in the American classic, “Taxi Driver”. While Travis wants to do what he thinks ‘is necessary’ for the overall good of the city, the butcher cannot think beyond his immediate circumstances, and that’s what makes this film so personal. We relate to him in so many levels and yet are repulsed by what he ends up doing. He is hard working, caring, and honestly attempts to turn his fortunes around. All the ingredients necessary for him to lead a decent existence are there – only in the wrong proportions.

It helps, even though not necessary, if “Seul Contre Tous” is seen with some knowledge of his earlier short film, “Carne”. That was about how the butcher loses everything he cared about in a single day – the custody of his daughter, and his shop, after mistakenly causing GBH on an innocent man. It ends with him leaving Paris with his pregnant girlfriend upon release from prison – with his mute daughter locked away in care, he feels he can now start life afresh.

“Seul Contre Tous” starts with the butcher disillusioned after being let down by his girlfriend – she had changed her mind about investing in a butcher shop after getting to Lille, and wants him to take up a paid job instead. Things come to a head and he flees to Paris after attacking his girlfriend in a fit of rage. He rents the old motel room where his daughter was conceived fifteen years ago, picks up his daughter from the care home for a day out, but brings her to the room instead. There are three bullets left in his revolver – how is he going to use it…

The film hardly looks like one made by a director beginning to find his feet in cinema. Not only is it immaculately planned and executed, it has also become a blueprint of sorts to his future style of film making.

One is also intrigued by Noé as a person, his themes and subjects may point to a tormented soul with strong pacifist leanings, but one could also see his clear convictions on what he wants to tell, made apparent in almost every aspect of the production, be it the way he frames his subjects, the clear-cut, almost brutal scene transitions, his preference for strong colours, and also his typographic choices. He remains one of the truly remarkable film makers in world cinema today, and every new film of his is enthusiastically anticipated by film lovers, myself included. I look forward to his current project, “7 días en La Habana” – a collection of short films by an eclectic mix of directors, which also includes the great Julio Medem – and I hope it turns out to be as special as it deserves to be.



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