PARIS – Iconoclastic indie filmmaker Gaspar Noe is as soft-spoken as his films are abrasive. The force behind the short film “Carne” (1991) and “I Stand Alone” (1998) — two visually explosive and delectably warped odes to the ordinary madness of a misunderstood horse butcher — Noe writes, directs, produces, shoots and edits films so distinctive that his films have already developed cult followings.
“Carne” ( for which top honors at the 1991 Cannes Critics’ Week were followed by the Georges Sadoul Prize and the coveted Prix Tres Special) launched the now well-established trend toward theatrical distribution of 40-minute films in Gaul. Quentin Tarantino insisted on sampling a horsemeat burger after seeing “Carne,” the unsettling ultra-widescreen account of a working stiff, his corpulent mistress and autistic daughter. When Vincent Gallo brought “Buffalo 66” to Deauville last September, he declared that Gaspar was one of a select trio of French filmmakers whose opinion “matters more to me than the entire critical establishment in America.”
Propelled by the dense and eloquent internal monologue of its frustrated and increasingly intolerant protagonist, “I Stand Alone” picks up where “Carne” left off to follow the fetid fortunes of the dispossessed butcher as he pursues a fruitless and humiliating search for work. The result — a majestic tirade of interlocking riffs on the petty and venal nature of existence as the nameless hero struggles to express his masculinity in an indifferent world — may be the best sustained monologue this side of Lucky’s speech in “Waiting for Godot.” Noe’s work will always hew closer to the margins than the mainstream, but thanks to the acclaim surrounding “I Stand Alone,” fans of Noe’s dark humor won’t have to wait quite as long as Samuel Beckett’s hapless characters for their next fix of skewed and potent philosophy.
Noe was born in Buenos Aires in December 1963 to a social worker mother of Irish descent and an artist father of Italian and Argentine parentage. The Noe family moved to New York soon after Gaspar’s birth when his dad, the noted Argentine painter Luis Felipe Noe, won a Guggenheim fellowship.
“We were in New York until I was 5, at the height of the Pop Art movement,” Noe recalls. After a return spell in Argentina the family moved to Paris when Gaspar was 12. He veered into cinema, entering the venerable Louis Lumiere school at 17 and emerging with a degree two years later, at an age where most students are just embarking on their college education.
Ten years ago he founded his own production company, Les Films de la Zone, with his partner in life and art, Lucile Hadzihalilovic, whose “Mimi” (La Bouche de Jean-Pierre) did nicely on the festival circuit after its 1996 premiere in Un Certain Regard at Cannes.
Reveling in an unsavory working-class realm of sallow complexions and garish lighting, “Carne,” “Mimi” and “I Stand Alone” share an obvious affection for dilapidated urban tawdriness. What might be simply dreary in other hands is promoted to a certain glory by the forthright span of a 16mm CinemaScope format perfected by Thierry Tronchet, which can be blown up to 35mm with relative ease. Noe’s subject matter may be distasteful to some, but “I Stand Alone” brilliantly shows the insidious process by which a man with a trade is compelled to rationalize his compound misfortune.
Although Noe’s films represent France in premium fest slots — in addition to winning the generous Mercedes Benz Prize voted on by all accredited crix at Cannes, “I Stand Alone” was singled out for honors at Edinburgh, Sarajevo, London and Stockholm and played Montreal, Telluride, Toronto and New York with Sundance and Rotterdam yet to come — production coin has never been easy to come by. Traditional French financing channels demanded that he water down the story but Noe stuck to his guns. Gallic fashion designer Agnes B. was instrumental in providing finishing funds for “I Stand Alone,” which will be released in France on Feb. 17.
As part of a French government initiative to promote the use of condoms through graphic depictions of their proper use, last year Noe made the short “Sodomites” and handled camera duties on Hadzihalilovic’s “Good Boys Use Condoms.”
Noe has three projects in the works on both sides of the Atlantic: an adaptation of Georges Bataille’s 1928 classic of sexual excess “Histoire de l’oeil” (“Story of The Eye”); “Enter the Void,” a self-penned tale he describes as “psychedelic” that will be the most expensive shoot he’s ever undertaken; and an improvisational erotic feature to be shot without a script.