Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone is no Taxi Driver, however desperately Noe might wish it was, but for much of its length it's a reasonably effective knock-off. Philippe Nahon (pictured above, in a contemplative moment) is very good as The Butcher, an unemployed, middle-aged man whose turbulent history up to the point of the film's beginning is recounted in uninflected, yet sardonic narration, while a Nazi-esque march plays in the background. His rage at the world is both putrid and banal, though his banality may not necessarily reflect badly on Noe, as the sort of man we're dealing with in I Stand Alone, as they exist in the real world, are hardly the deepest of thinkers.
So okay: I thought the film worked, for the most part, and Noe's preferred method of arist-to-audience communication -- shocking sex and violence -- spreads the existential sleaze on just thickly enough. But I want to focus exclusively (and very briefly, as I'm back home now, and completely wiped out) on one moment that really drove me up the wall. With about fifteen minutes to go, a title appears on screen that says, roughly, Warning! You have 20 seconds to leave the theater. Danger! Then we get a countdown to the film's big, shocking climax, which then shocks us, and then the movie's over.
There are a couple of things that are supremely obnoxious about this bit of self-congratulatory post-modernism. One is that it drops its post-modernism into the middle of a film that primarily shoots for a naturalistic tone (with some mild exceptions). In that sense, the title card merely doesn't work, which is excusable. Less excusable is that it exposes Noe as someone who positively adores his own transgressions, and who seeks to shock his audiences so that he can pat himself on the back for his bravery and honesty. As if that wasn't enough, the title card -- like the rewind scene in Michael Haneke's Funny Games -- also saps his climax of nearly all of its natural, visceral power. While Nahon's performance (as well as that of Blandine Lenoir, with whom Nahon shares the end of the film) saves some of that power from draining away completely, an actor can only do so much repair work after the director has announced to the world that he doesn't care about his characters.
Shock, as a means to an end, and developed organically in the story, is perfectly fine by me. But shock as the point in and of itself, accompanied by a smirk, is extremely offensive to me. And its offensive as an artistic philosophy, moreso than any of the images that philosophy tries to rub my nose in. Its like telling a dead baby joke and then chastising those who couldn't "handle" it.