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France, 1998 (MIFF 1999, International Panorama)

Director: Gaspar Noé

Described by Sight & Sound as one of the most harrowing and powerful films at last year's Cannes Film Festival (and winner of the Critic's Week Award), / Stand Alone includes a warning near its incredible climax that squeamish audience members have 60 seconds (including a countdown) to leave the cinema! If you are in any doubt about this bold challenge, this is one film that lives up to such provocation.

A former horsemeat butcher is fighting for sanity and survival. Having abandoned his autistic daughter, he moves to Lille with his pregnant mistress hoping to rebuild his life. He has no love for his partner or his new living arrangements in his mother-in-law's apartment. Hope turns to bitterness, then obsession and finally explosive violence.

A second move to Paris and renewed hope once more decays. Penniless, with only a gun, three bullets and a death wish, one thought spurs the butcher on: vengeance.

Gaspar Noe's feature debut is not entirely grim. The director is also capable of moments of transcendent tenderness. His depictions of distress are carried off with a macabre beauty reminiscent of the darkly attractive tone of the photographs of Joel Peter Witkin. Rather than simply employ sensationalist tactics Noe has assembled a film of total emotional impact.

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