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Meat and Greet

Noé's antihero may call France a "shithole of cheese and Nazi lovers," but like Céline's Journey to the End of the Night, I Stand Alone can be seen as bizarrely patriotic. However beleaguered his national culture, the miserable, martyred, misanthropic butcher of Paris will not go quietly into oblivion. I think therefore I am, the movie's antihero bellows, knowing that his ferocious diatribe has the power to amaze tout le monde— the whole world will hear this French dog bark.

There's also a marked '70s quality to the even gorier black comedy Ravenous. Surprisingly, this Hollywood- financed, antimilitarist, gross-out Western by British director Antonia Bird is the first theatrical feature to draw on one of the grisliest episodes in American history— namely the 1847 California-bound Donner Party who, trapped by an early winter in the Sierra Nevadas, resorted to cannibalism.

That Ravenous will oscillate in tone between the spooky and the jocular is immediately signaled when a Nietzschean epigram is capped by the anonymous injunction "EAT ME." In a movie filled with anachronistic wise-guy performances, Guy Pearce's Captain John Boyd— a soldier who managed to survive a Mexican War battle by cravenly playing possum in a mass grave— is unusually sober. As his reward, he's sent to a remote fort high in the Sierra Nevadas— there to be the straight man to a crew of rowdy, sloppy misfits. Things grow even more lysergic when a mysterious stranger (Robert Carlyle) stumbles out of the wilderness one night, recounting the tale of a stranded wagon train whose starving members were compelled to butcher one another for food.

Nahon in I Stand Alone, part circus stunt, part social tract
Film Forum
Nahon in I Stand Alone, part circus stunt, part social tract

Details

I Stand Alone
Written and directed by Gaspar Noé
A Strand release
At Film Forum
Through March 30

Ravenous
Directed by Antonia Bird
Written by Ted Griffin
A 20th Century Fox release
Opens March 19

The fort dispatches a rescue mission and Bird gets her best scenes, midmovie, with Boyd and a handful of other soldiers heading heedless into horror, their guide ever freakier as they approach his haunt of fear. A succession of dripping corpses, not to mention Carlyle's hooting, Manson-esque character, suggest the missing link between the Old West and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre— although Ted Griffin's screenplay, which derives an additional spin by appropriating an Indian vampire myth, is ultimately too crude to sustain the mood. As Bird, too, overplays her hand, the movie dissolves into a bloody mess.

For all its high-flown suggestions that cannibalism might be a metaphor for Manifest Destiny, gold-hungry Americans, or an innate will to consume, Ravenous loses resonance as it proceeds. To stay to find out how this campfire story ends is to sit still for a debate on morality that the butcher of I Stand Alone would find laughable, amid one-liners that would make even him wince. "It's lonely being a cannibal," a character complains. "It's tough making friends."

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