Controversy about New French Extremity rises from the term itself. Coined by critic James Quandt as a rather pejorative term to recall a series of French transgressive films developed under the turn of the 21st century, it is discussed whether it stands as a genre or not. While the recent decrease of the discussion does not mean that the matter is solved, we can partially solve the mentioned difficult playground by having some of the New French Extremity films’ common elements in mind.
Mixed and accentuated in different ways and perspectives depending on each film director’s vision, we can find a recurrence of excessive brutality and sexuality; everyday life’s violence depictions; the implications or lack of implications behind sex; social decadence; the psychotic struggle of inner urges; the construction (or destruction) of identities and a glimpse of political criticism that some might qualify as progressive while others as conservative or even fascist.
Below is a list of fifteen New French Extremity-associated films you should consider seeing. Some of the films enlisted here are regarded as the genre’s essential titles; some seem to have been crucial for its development and others simply refreshed some old fashioned story with New French Extremity’s particular means.
Primarily, the list was made by taking account of the importance of the each film’s solidity; a matter that excluded some of the genre’s most well known titles. As for why you should consider seeing at least some New French Extremity films, you can count on their experimental film techniques as well as the unique experiences.
15. Sheitan (Kim Chapiron, 2006)
An interesting crossover between gore and Satanism-related movies, Sheitan is just a fresh and unpretentious title.
Sheitan’s main goal is to entertain you with half an hour of twisted yet effective old-fashioned gory horror. Its plotline follows a dysfunctional group of young adults invited to the countryside house of a hot chick they’ve just met in a bar. As we can actually read in a scene, “Do not forgive them, Lord, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Special mention to Vincent Cassel’s insane performance.
14. Les amants criminels (François Ozon, 1999)
A Hansel and Gretel-like cheerful exploration of sexuality and boredom, Ozon’s Les amants criminels carries the violence under the direction of playfulness and joy, a not-often-seen alternative more directly associated with New French Extremity.
The plotline follows the hysterical relationship of Alice (Natacha Régnier) and Luc (Jérémie Rénier), two teenagers committed with perpetrating the murder of one of Alice’s classmates who happens to have all the sexual fury Luc lacks.
13. Frontier(s) (Xavier Gens, 2007)
There are actually quite a lot of reasons why Frontier(s), one of the genre’s most well known films, could have been a failure: the classic yet now cliched plotline of the scenario far away from civilization; the dysfunctional group of characters whose conflict seems to be more dangerous for them than the evil surrounding them; the wrongly exploited element of political criticism; the cruel yet cartoonish countryside family patiently waiting for the clueless foreigners to arrive; the brainless neo-Nazism behind the gory atrocities we see.
Yes, Frontier(s) actually had to deal with all of them. And yet, the result was awesome. Frontier(s) succeeded in having refreshing elements.The story follows the after events of a bank assault carried by a group of thieves who decided to approach the disturbances carried by France’s political elections. Things work wrong for the group since the beginning and are about to get worse when everyone decides to meet in an isolated motel as they attempt to pass the border.
12. Calvaire (Fabrice Du Welz, 2004)
Belgium’s major contribution to the genre so far, Calvaire deals with exploitation. A dark parade of blood and brutality, so far it doesn’t sound different from many non New French Extremity horror tittles we have seen or heard of. However, the thing with this movie is that we may disturbingly find its story as something that can actually happen to us or someone we know.
Calvaire presents the traumatic experience of Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas), a struggling low-level singer, as he happens to stay in the abandoned inn of Bartel (Jackie Berroyer), a friendly old man abandoned by her wife who also happened to be a singer. The coincidence made Marc suffer from unexpected torture in Bartel’s inn.
11. Ma mère (Christophe Honoré, 2004)
Based on a novel only Bataille could have come up with, Ma mère is one of New French Extremity’s most taboo-breaking and transgressive titles, a film very hard to watch.
Christophe Honoré’s adaptation of Bataille’s posthumous novel presents the story of the teen Pierre (Louis Garrel) who happened to know who his mother really is soon after his father’s death. A largely negative reviewed film, Ma mère’s exploration of taboo foundations makes it a film worth seeing.
10. Baise-moi (Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi, 2000)
Regarded as one of New French Extremity key points, Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi’s controversial Baise-moi (literally, Rape Me) follows Nadine and Manu’s spiral of violence, friendship and unforgiveness after they met on a subway station, just after having dealt with an issue of each one’s personal halo.
Polemical, nihilistic and with a disturbing monotony beneath its violent sequences, Baise-moi is one of those films you might regret seeing. Yet, it is also a film that will make you feel empathetic, one of the main intentions of New French Extremity.
9. Intimacy (Patrice Chéreau, 2001)
Intimacy is one of the most conservative, yet polemical, New French Extremity titles. Its charm lies in the particular glimpse of hope it offers us as well as in its development of the question; for it seems to seek all possible roots to subscribe the sexual impersonality discourse as if really wanting to do it without really getting it. The plotline follows Jay, a depressed London bartender losing interest in relationships and life itself.
Jay has frequent sexual meetings with a woman he doesn’t know anything about in his apartment. Their relationship seem to cure Jay of his depression, until Jay begins to notice something is missing and attempts to know more about the woman. The film is the winner of 2001 Berlin Film Festival and is regarded as one of 2000’s best films by Slant Magazine.