European cinema has never been harder- hitting or more extreme. Seul Contre Tous by GASPAR NOE is the latest film to lead audiences into the heart of darkness.
Words: Nigel Floyd
MEAT IS MURDER
A BLEAK, FEROCIOUS VISION OF AN unemployed horse-meat butcher’s slide into suicidal despair, Seul Contre Tous was written. produced, photographed and directed by Gaspar Noé. a 36-year~old filmmaker based in Paris. Noe"s close-cropped bullet head and piercing eyes seem to ﬁt his milieu. but it‘s hard to reconcile his girlish. sing-song voice with the ﬁlm’s extreme, nihilistic vision. His whimsical conversational style is also curiously at odds with the rigorous morality and formal boldness of his work, which features striking wide-screen compositions, explosive shock-cuts. 0iddying whip pans. droll inter-titles and a relentless. hate-fuelled voice-over by the film‘s misanthropic anti- hero.
Seul Contre Tous started life as a sequel to Noe”s Came, an extraordinary 40-minute ﬁlm he made back in 1992, featuring the same main characters — an alienated horse butcher, his mistress and his autistic daughter. But due to lack of finance. the planned 30—day shooting schedule eventually stretched over an incredible four years, during which time the 40-minute sequel grew into a stand-alone feature. Unlike his dispirited horse butcher, though, Noé never gave up hope.
‘I heard that it took between five and eight years for David Lynch to make Eraser/read. and that’s the movie of his I like best.‘ he says. ‘If it took him such a long time. why shouldn‘t this movie take me four years‘?‘
His persistence was ﬁnally rewarded when Seul Contr) Tous won the Critics’ Prize at this year‘s Cannes Film Festival. Looking back, Noé feels that the film‘s long gestation contributed to its quality. Snatching a few days of shooting here and there, editing only when he had the funds, Noé developed his vision organically. New and increasingly challenging ideas were generated and explored, while the aesthetic strategies ﬁrst used in Came were pushed to even greater extremes. In particular, the use of the butcher‘s remorseless narration, which was inspired by a terrifyineg intense Austrian movie called Angst. also known as Schizophrenia.
‘I really love that movie.‘ explains Noe passionately. ‘because there is this relentless voice~over from the beginning to the end. It‘s the story of a psychopath. a schizophrenic who‘s released from jail and decides to kill a family just so he can go back to jail. where he feels safe. And while he's killing this whole family. you have this voice-over telling you what happened to him during his youth. It‘s as if there are two movies in one —- you have what you see. and you have what he‘s thinking. So
you’re trapped inside the mental world of
someone that it‘s very hard to identify with. but whose point—of-view you can't escape from.‘
The use of voice—over in Sen] Contre 'lbus is equally disturbing. forcing us to experience its horriﬁc scenes through the distorting lens
of the horse-meat butcher‘s violent. misogynist and increasingly unhinged con-
sciousness. Sympathetic iden- tification is not an option. but neither is switching off. Noé's only regret about the British version of the film is that this effect is slightly watered down by the sub-titles.
‘I think the voice-over in Saul Contre Tous works much better for the French audience.‘ he explains. ‘When it‘s your own language, you become hypnotised by the sound of the butcher‘s voice. When you have to read the subtitles. it becomes much more literal. and it creates a distance that makes the movie a bit colder.‘
For all its savage nihilism. Seal Contre Tous is not without its moments of ironic humour. One in particular tends to catch audiences off-guard — an inter— title advising them that they have 30 seconds to leave the theatre. followed by an on-screen countdown. Noe borrowed this device from cheapo movie maker
We experience horrific scenes through the distorting lens of the horse-meat butcher’s violent,‘ misogynist and
unhinged consciousness. . Switching off is not an option.
and flamboyant self-publicist William Castle. creator of The 'Ii'ng/w'.
‘I think it was in Hmnir'ir/u/ that he used it.‘ he says. 'In a movie like that it‘s not scary: in fact. it‘s a bit camp. But in Sm! (‘ontre Tous. it works on another level. Because people know what has gone before. they think that what will come afterwards must be very violent and disturbing.
‘lior me. it‘s a way of saying that this is serious. but also of having fun with the idea of it being serious. Some people reproach me for having used that inter-title. but I'm really proud of it.‘
Seul Contre Tous is at the Edinburgh Cameo from Fri 19 Mar. See review, page 26.
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