15 Essential Films For An Introduction To The New French Extremity

8. Dans ma peau (Marina de Van, 2002)

Dans ma peau

Kafka reloaded. Despite what we might think after a superficial revision of the genre, New French Extremity doesn’t attempt to be grotesque just for the odds. There’s always a message behind each movie.

It is unnecessary to show weird people ineffectively dealing with the wormy and emetic decomposition of their bodies to talk about self-alienation and overstimulation on a dehumanized and over-competitive world, something Marina de Van had clear in Dans Ma Peau.

The film’s ingenuity lies in a plot as simple as its message: After a party accident, Esther (Marina de Van herself) develops an awkward fascination with her body, particularly with her skin. As her dreamed position seems to get closer, Esther’s aggressiveness and solitude rise to break all her personal relationships, a price Esther seems to be willing to pay.


7. Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001)

Trouble Every Day (2001)

Another title that makes use of the cannibalism taboo, Trouble Every Day is one of the genre’s most personal and brutal titles. It is even said that people left disgusted on the film’s presentation at 2001 Cannes Film Festival. However, the film plainly, yet allegorically, deals with marriage’s daily struggles: mistrustfulness, untold urges and lack of communication, constant themes of this Claire Denis story about Shane (Vincent Galo) and June (Tricia Vessey), a couple spending a honeymoon in Paris.

While June is planning to have the honeymoon she always dreamt of, Shane leaves her frustrated in their hotel room as he tries to localize Coré (Béatrice Dalle) and Léo (Alex Descas), another couple struggling with Core’s cannibalistic desire, something that Shane, who carries the same urges, was primarily responsible for.


6. À l’intérieur (Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, 2007)


Lots of people regard it as 2007’s best horror title. In eighty five minutes, Alexandre Bustillo and Julian Maury offer us pure anguish, claustrophobic tension and high quality gore in this home-invasion story about Sarah Scarangelo (Alysson Paradis), a pregnant woman trying to survive from a creepy woman’s (Béatice Dalle) attempts to perform her a cesarean section to steal her baby.

Creepy as it sounds, Bustillo and Maury actually achieve to unfold brutal violence and still satisfy, if a little, the story’s strength to deliver one of New French Extremity essential tittles.


5. Demonlover (Olivier Assayas, 2002)


Few are the New French Extremity films that actually can deal with the social criticism element without making it a marginal or plus gift in their plot, Olivier Assayas’ Demonlover is one of them. Ignored when first released, the film’s cult status has been improving with time.

Assayas mixes noir, thriller and even porn elements to develop a disturbing allegory of our increasing insensibility to violence in a globalised world. The story follows Diane, an ambitious and calculating business woman, who happens to be in the core of two major corporations’ struggle to get the distribution rights of a Japanese company’s 3D pornography.

In a world where no one is who they pretend to be, as the companies’ dirty laundry begins to emerge, Diane starts to realize it might be too late for her to escape. 


4. Irreversible (Gaspar Noé, 2002)


One of New French Extremity best-known titles, Irreversible was Noé’s major exploitation of annoying low frequent tones and an assaulting, hard-to-follow, film technique.

The film is presented in thirteen 16 mm widescreen scenes (a digital edition of many shots behind each one) in an inverse chronological sequence. These technical matters are just enough to bore the viewer; the interesting thing lies in how they actually work out in presenting the plotline: a story of brutality and revenge, Irreversible follows the hard yet functional triangle of Marcus (Vincent Cassel), Pierre (Albert Dupontel) and Alex (Monica Bellucci).

Alex is a sexy bomb who once had a relationship with Pierre, an alienated and depressed guy, but now is holding it with Marcus, an aggressive and chaotic party macho. Despite the neurotic and open questions of Pierre as for why Alex preferred Marcus, the trio actually hang out together; a key matter for us to comprehend the chaotic attempt of revenge Marcus and Pierre will carry just after Alex is brutally raped.

There are plenty of hard sequences in this movie. It is said that even Noé was quite uncomfortable with the stressful and monotone rape scene filming. A competitor of 2002 Cannes Film Festival, the film immediately outraged viewers claiming its violence simply went too far.


3. Humanité (Bruno Dumont, 1999)


Based upon Gustave Courbet oil-on-canvas L’Origine du monde, Humanité exposes the pictoric world of Pharaoh De Winter (Emmanuel Schotté), a ghostly and apathetic superintendent investigating the rape and murder of a little girl. The story stops there; for its narrative lacks of any form of development and it even becomes a secondary element of the film. Instead, there is a commitment to showing the state of things around De Winter’s autistic world.

There’s a lot of complexity surrounding the character; lost, quiet, extremely passive… he seems to be divided between the social world in which he is a complete stranger and the garden he committed to take care of. 

Both places communicate via De Winter’s passive desire for Dominó (Severine Caneele), a rough woman whose savage sexual intercourse with Joseph, De Winter’s friend, seems to remind De Winter the impersonality and crudeness behind humanity. A very symbolical movie, the slowness due to its story’s secondary role, makes it really hard to follow. Its success at 1999 Cannes Film Festival got mixed and even negative responses; yet, it is still one of Dummont’s most polished works.


2. Martyrs (Pascal Laugier 2008)


Another New French Extremity masterpiece, Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs articulates the above mentioned elements on a gory and yet romanticist story that immediately attracted lots of attention to the genre. Martyrs is the story of a friendship sealed by a traumatic experience.

Young Lucie, kidnapped and tortured for a long time, manages to escape from her captors, who vanish as she is sent to a mental institution. While the treatment for the traumas of her experience does not seem to improve, Lucie finds a real friend in Anna, who becomes Lucy’s main contact with the world.

Lucie’s kidnapping arouses lots of interesting questions. To begin with, she was never raped, nor a rescue for her was ever demanded. Despite the attempts to solve the case and Ana’s help, Lucie’s state of mind, tormenting her with an horrifying hallucination, seems to be the main obstruction authorities have to do their job.

That’s how time passes as Lucie’s delusions grow stronger as well as her friendship with Ana. One day, a grown up Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï), armed with a shotgun and claiming to having found her former captors, knocks the door of what we could actually evaluate as a happy united family. Anna (Morjana Aaoui) and Lucie’s spiral of cruelty and madness as they get close to the truth behind Lucie’s kidnapping had just begun.


1. Seul contre tous (Gaspar Noé, 1998)

Seul contre tous

Perhaps New French Extremity most acclaimed title. Not even Gaspar Noe’s nihilistic heavy-weight Enter the Void (2009), with all its psychedelic visual attractiveness, could defeat the unfolding of Noe’s demons in Seul contre tous, still his masterpiece. Most of it, perhaps, it’s due to the charm of its simplicity, something Enter the Void as well as Irreversible lack of.

Taking the plotline of the butcher’s story just where Carne ended, Seul contre tous follows the butcher’s psychotic struggle between humiliation and survival as he faces the daily crudeness of society while attempting to reconnect with his daughter.

Everything is perfect or at least nearly perfect with Seul contre tous: its story, its film process, its main character’s breakdown, its visual load, its music and, of course, its final minutes in which Noé cynically laughs at our redemption expectations. A film you should see no matter what.


Honorable Mention:

Carne (Gaspar Noé, 1991)


The presentation of Noé’s best-known antihero, the nameless butcher (performed by an awesome Philippe Nahon), and the short film that carries the seed of Noé’s posteriors works. The butcher running of his own business while repressing the urges for possessing the autistic daughter he is raising is an involving exploration of one man’s breakdown among the crudeness of everyday’s struggle.

The controversy of this story deeply contrasted with the overall acclaim it received since its release. If you intend to get close to New French Extremity-related movies, Carne is a strength first step.

Author Bio: Emiliano is a 23-year-old Ethics and Logic professor in a Mexican high school, his favorite directors are Gaspar Noé, Lars von Trier, Stanley Kubrick and Wim Wenders.