New French Extremity (New French Extremism or, informally, New French Extreme) is a term coined by Artforum critic James Quandt for a collection of transgressive films by French directors at the turn of the 21st century. The filmmakers are also discussed by Jonathan Romney of The Independent.
Quandt associates François Ozon, Gaspar Noé, Catherine Breillat, Bruno Dumont, Claire Denis' Trouble Every Day (2001), Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy (2001), Bertrand Bonello's The Pornographer (2001), Marina de Van's In My Skin (2002), Leos Carax's Pola X (1999), Philippe Grandrieux's Sombre (1998) and La vie nouvelle (2002), Jean-Claude Brisseau's Secret Things (2002), Jacques Nolot's La Chatte à deux têtes (2002), Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi's Baise-moi (2000), and Alexandre Aja's Haute tension (2003) with the label.
While Quandt intended the term as pejorative, many so labeled have produced critically acclaimed work. David Fear indicates that the lack of humanity beneath the horror represented in these films leads to their stigma, arguing that Bruno Dumont's Flanders (2006) "contains enough savage violence and sexual ugliness" to remain vulnerable to the New French Extremity tag, but "a soul also lurks underneath the shocks". Nick Wrigley indicates that Dumont was merely chastised for "letting everybody down" who expected him to be the heir to Robert Bresson.
Tim Palmer has also written about these films, describing them as constituting a "cinema of the body." Palmer has argued that such films reflect a large scale stylistic trajectory, a kind of avant-garde among like-minded directors, from Catherine Breillat to François Ozon, along with contemporary figures such as Marina de Van, Claire Denis, Dumont, Gaspar Noé, and many others. Palmer situates this tendency within the complex eco-system of French cinema, underlining the conceptual diversity and artistic scope in French cinema today.
Jonathan Romney traces a long line of (mainly French) painters and writers influencing these directors, beginning with the Marquis de Sade, and including Gustave Courbet's 1866 L'origine du monde, Comte de Lautréamont, Antonin Artaud, Georges Bataille, William S. Burroughs, Michel Houellebecq, and Marie Darrieussecq. He locates filmic predecessors in Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, Roman Polanski, Jean-Luc Godard's Le weekend, Andrzej Zulawski's Possession, and Michael Haneke. Quandt also alludes to Arthur Rimbaud, Buñuel, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Georges Franju, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Guy Debord, Walerian Borowczyk, Godard, Psycho, Zulawski, Deliverance, Jean Eustache's La maman et la putain, and Maurice Pialat's A Nos Amours as models, but criticizes that the contemporary filmmakers so far lack the "power to shock an audience into consciousness".
John Wray notes that some of these filmmakers show less affection for Hollywood films than their New Wave predecessors, and take after Jean Renoir as well as Bresson. He also notes the long shots and enigmatic story-telling style of Dumont and the Dardenne brothers.
While the New French Extremity refers to a stylistically diverse group of films and filmmakers, it has been described as "[a] crossover between sexual decadence, bestial violence and troubling psychosis". The New French Extremity movement has roots in art house and horror cinema. According to film blogger Matt Smith, this tradition has recently "shoved its way very consciously into [France's] genre endeavors". Says Smith:
[T]his new crop of horror is something altogether entirely different, concerned as much with gender identity as it is with sheer taboo-breaking of the screen images of bodies. The New French Extremity in particular is a wide-ranging set of films, encompassing art-house darlings like Claire Denis and Catherine Breillat (a filmmaker much more interested in sex than violence, or rather sex as violence) as well as those who might be deemed schlockmeisters by their detractors[,] like Xavier Gens and Alexandre Aja.
Films belonging to the New French Extremity take a severe approach to depicting violence and sex.
Smith identifies five films that he believes primarily comprise a new wave of horror in France: High Tension, Ils, Frontiere(s), À l'intérieur and Martyrs. These films, he says, provide a "comprehensive snapshot of human anxieties about our bodies", both corporeally and socially. Within these works, Smith identifies two predominant themes: home invasion and, relatedly, a fear of the Other.
Pascal Laugier, director of the film Martyrs, has said that his work is connected to American torture porn efforts like the Saw series and director Eli Roth's Hostel, though he likens Martyrs to an "anti-Hostel". What makes his film different from its American counterpart, he says, is that Martyrs is about pain rather than torture. Per Laugier:
My film is very clear about what it says about human pain and human suffering. [...] The film is only really about the nature and the meaning of human suffering. I mean, the pain we all feel on an everyday basis - in a symbolic way. The film doesn't talk about torture - it talks about the pain".
Film scholar Steve Jones has also charted the relationship between New Extremism and torture porn based on their shared themes and characteristics.
Although films belonging to the New French Extremity exhibit traits representative of a wide range of horror subgenres—including slashers, revenge films and home invasion films—the body horror subgenre has been particularly influential.
Smith identifies body horror as one of the New French Extremity's most significant thematic antecedents, citing the early work of Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg as a key influence on the movement. He calls attention to the collective focus of the New French Extremity on human corporeality, specifically its destruction and violation:
As the French seem intent to prove, it is not our corporeal existence that should be held sacred - [their] insistence on showing anything and everything is evidence of this. The body is meant to be examined, explicitly and externally, to deepen our understanding of our own humanity...and what we hope lies in wait for us at the end of it all.— 
Xavier Gens, a director associated with the New French Extremity, has loosely situated his work within the body horror tradition. He cites David Cronenberg's 1986 remake of The Fly as an influence on his film Frontiere(s), saying: "To me, Frontiere(s) is a love letter to the genre movie. There's a lot of reference to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Fly, and to many others...".
Relatedly, film scholar Linda Williams has written about the so-called "body genres"—also known as "gross" genres or "genres of excess"—a label that includes pornography, horror and melodrama. Body genre films "promise to be sensational, to give our bodies an actual physical jolt. [...] [T]heir displays of sensations...are on the edge of respectable", which is what attracts audiences to them. Such films are necessarily spectacle-driven, depicting human bodies overcome by intense physical or emotional sensations (e.g., pleasure, terror, sadness). Body genre films are also marked by the fact that they induce within viewers an involuntary mimicry of the emotions or sensations portrayed onscreen—for example: pleasure in porn, terror in horror or sadness in melodrama.
The New French Extremity bears certain thematic comparisons to the American exploitation cinema of the 1970s. USC film scholar Tania Modleski notes that much of what distinguished the American exploitation movement from the Hollywood-dominated horror films that preceded it was "[exploitation films'] unprecedented assault on all that bourgeois culture is supposed to cherish--like the ideological apparatuses of the family and the school". Films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Brood, she says, were at the time noteworthy for their "adversarial relation to contemporary culture and society". In much the same way, many films belonging to the New French Extremity have been explicit in their criticism and rejection of bourgeois ideals. Films like Martyrs, À l'intérieur and Frontiere(s), for example, have been noted for their subversive attitudes toward dominant political, social and cultural orders.
Both exploitation cinema and the New French Extremity are characterized in large part by their transgressive attitudes towards depicting violence and sex.
While films associated with the New French Extremity are unified by their transgressive content, critics and scholars have also highlighted their tendency to incorporate social and political themes. According to film scholar Tim Palmer, "[the New French Extremity] offers incisive social critiques, portraying contemporary society as isolating, unpredictably horrific and threatening".
Writer and film scholar Jon Towlson says that "the New French Extremity movement, [sic] can... be seen most significantly as a response to the rise of right-wing extremism in France during the last ten years..., a response that filmmakers are in the process of working through".
Still, films of the New French Extremity do not appear to reflect a unified social or political platform. Some have been noted to include politically progressive commentary while others have been called conservative, homophobic and fascistic.
Critics disagree as to whether the sensational nature of many New French Extremity films disqualifies them as legitimate expressions of social, political and philosophical commentary. Some critics and scholars have judged the movement's treatment of such themes positively; others have dismissed it as tacked on, miscalculated or even offensive.
Several films associated with the New French Extremity have generated significant controversy upon their premieres. Irréversible and Trouble Every Day, which respectively debuted at the 2002 and 2001 Cannes film festivals, were noteworthy for prompting widespread walkouts among audience members. Martyrs was received similarly upon its debut at Cannes 2008, with audience members reportedly walking out, fainting, vomiting and bursting into tears.
In a positive review of Xavier Gens' Frontiere(s), New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis notes the film's exploitative tendencies while also crediting its "amusingly glib and timely political twist". In the film, a group of French-Arab youths flees a riotous Paris following the election of a far-right government, only to be pursued by a murderous family of militant white fascists. "There's enough blood in the unrated french horror film Frontiere(s) to satiate even the most ravenous gore hounds", Dargis says. "The real surprise here is that this creepy, contemporary gross-out also has some ideas, visual and otherwise, wedged among its sanguineous drips...". While Dargis ultimately regards the film's political convictions in a positive light, she notes that certain scenes veer "dangerously close to the unpardonable, with images that evoke the Holocaust too strongly".
Like Dargis, Village Voice critic Jim Ridley acknowledged Frontiere(s)'s political themes. Ridley, however, is less favorable of the movie, describing it as "vigorously art-directed torture porn". Comparing it to other films in the New French Extremity (specifically Haute Tension, Sheitan and À l'intérieur), he says Frontiere(s) takes "the most bluntly political tack yet." It is "both hysterical and muddled", even when interpreted as satire.
Director Gens was himself vocal about the film's intended socio-political message. Asked in one interview about his inspiration for Frontiere(s), Gens said: "It came from the events in 2002, when we had the presidential elections [in France]. There was an extreme right party in the second round. That was the most horrible day of my life. The idea of Frontiere(s) came to me then...".
Pascal Laugier's Martyrs was the subject of similar contention upon its debut at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, where early reporting highlighted viewers' divergent reactions to the film's violence and socio-philosophical themes. Anton Bitel of Britain's Film4 praised the film, saying it "eludes the 'torture porn' label precisely by questioning what those terms might mean, what appeal they might possibly have, and what questions - fundamental, even metaphysical questions - they might answer". Jamie Graham of Total Film called Martyrs "one of the most extreme pictures ever made, and one of the best horror movies of the last decade". He also likened it to "a torture-porn movie for Guardian readers", one that owed as much to Francis Bacon and Raphael as to its genre contemporaries. By contrast, writer and film scholar Jon Towlson says Martyrs' "political intentions are less overt, more ambivalent and ultimately nihilistic" compared to its contemporaries. "Putting the audience 'through it,'" he says, "is the film's raison d'etre"
Commenting on the controversy surrounding his film to IndieLondon, director Laugier said he felt "insulted" by many critics' misinterpretations of Martyrs.
Some films considered as part of the New French Extremity rework elements of the horror genre. Other contemporary French horror films with a similar sensibility include Trouble Every Day, Sheitan, Ils, Haute Tension, Frontier(s) and À l'interieur. The Belgian film Calvaire has also been associated with this trend.
Pascal Laugier, director of the controversial horror film Martyrs, disagrees with the idea of there being a horror revival in France:
The fact is that we are much more successful in foreign countries and in our homeland it's always the same stuff where you're never a prophet..What I mean is that even the horror fans, the French ones, they are very condescending about French horror films. It's still a hell to find the money, a hell to convince people that we are legitimate to make this kind of movie in France. So I know from an American point of view and probably an English one too, there is a kind of new wave of modern horror film, but it's not true. It's still hell. My country produces almost 200 films a year and there are like 2 or 3 horror films. It's not even an industry, French horror cinema is very low budget, it's kinda prototype. I think that a genre really exists when it's industrially produced like the Italians did 600 spaghetti westerns. So we can't really say that there is a wave of horror in French Cinema, I don't believe it.— 
Laugier does, however, acknowledge the existence of a broader wave of new European horror. He notes Spain, France and England as contributors.
The New French Extremity movement has influenced filmmakers in other countries, particularly in Europe, prompting some to suggest that a greater movement of European Extremity is afoot.
Some filmmakers associated with the New French Extremity have gone on to make mainstream horror films for major American studios. Alexandre Aja, director of France's High Tension, went on to direct a remake of Wes Craven's 1977 exploitation/revenge film The Hills Have Eyes. Xavier Gens, director of France's Frontiere(s), had already directed a major Hollywood adaptation of the popular Hitman video game series when Frontiere(s) was released, and went on to make the English-language The Divide.
Acid Western is a subgenre of the Western film that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s that combines the metaphorical ambitions of critically acclaimed Westerns, such as Shane and The Searchers, with the excesses of the Spaghetti Westerns and the outlook of the counterculture of the 1960s. Acid Westerns subvert many of the conventions of earlier Westerns to "conjure up a crazed version of autodestructive white America at its most solipsistic, hankering after its own lost origins".Baise-moi
Baise-moi (Fuck me) is a 2000 French crime thriller film with elements of a rape and revenge film written and directed by Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi and starring Karen Lancaume and Raffaëla Anderson. It is based on the novel by Despentes, first published in 1993. The film received intense media coverage because of its graphic mix of violence and explicit sex scenes. Consequently, it is sometimes considered an example of the "New French Extremity."
As a French noun, un baiser means "a kiss," but as a verb, baiser means "to fuck," so Baise-moi (pronounced [bɛz.mwa]) means simply "Fuck me." In some markets the film has been screened as "Rape me," but the French for "rape me" is "viole-moi." In a 2002 interview Rape Me was rejected by the directors.
In 2000, The Film Censorship Board of Malaysia banned the film outright because of "very high-impact violence and sexual content throughout." Later that same year, the film was banned in Singapore owing to "depictions of sexual violence [that] may cause controversy." In Australia, the film was allowed to be shown at cinemas with an R18+ (adults only) rating. Then in 2002, the film was pulled from cinemas and television and after that, banned outright. The film is still banned there because of its "harmful, explicit sexually violent content," and was re-banned in 2013. However, an edited R18+ version was screened on 23 August 2013 on the World Movies channel of the Australian state broadcaster SBS, as part of the World Movies "Films That Shocked The World" season.Bertrand Bonello
Bertrand Bonello (French: [bɔnɛlo]; born 11 September 1968) is a French film director, screenwriter, producer and composer. His background is in classical music, and he lives between Paris and Montreal. His work has also been associated with the New French Extremity.His film The Pornographer (2001) won the FIPRESCI prize at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. Tiresia (2003) was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.His film House of Tolerance, a depiction of daily life in a fin-de-siècle Parisian bordello, premiered In Competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.His 2014 film Saint Laurent competed for the Palme d'Or in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. The film was also selected as France's submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards.Demonlover
Demonlover is a 2002 neo-noir thriller film by French writer/director Olivier Assayas. The film stars Connie Nielsen, Charles Berling, Chloë Sevigny, and Gina Gershon with a musical score by Sonic Youth. It premiered at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, although it was more widely released several months later.
The story focuses on the entanglement between various national corporations vying over the financial control of interactive 3-D anime pornography. The film contains various themes, including desensitization to violence and the problematic nature of globalization. Upon its theatrical release in the United States, it was rated R for strong violence, sexual content and some language. It was released in both R-rated and unrated director's cut versions on DVD.
The film is primarily in French, with some scenes in English and Japanese. It is considered an example of New French Extremity by some journalists. In recent years the film has gained a cult following.High Tension
High Tension (French: Haute Tension, French pronunciation: [ot tɑ̃sjɔ̃]; released in the United Kingdom as Switchblade Romance) is a 2003 French horror film directed by Alexandre Aja, stars Cécile de France, Maïwenn, and Philippe Nahon.
High Tension was picked up by independent distributor Lions Gate Entertainment following a successful screening at the Midnight Madness section of the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival. The film was originally rated NC-17 in the U.S. for strong graphic violence. However, Lionsgate re-edited the film (to secure an R rating) and re-dubbed the film in English, then Lionsgate spent $14 million to open the film in wide release in the United States. However, the film eventually only grossed $3.6 million in United States theatrically. Lionsgate later released the original cut (referred to as an unrated version) on Blu-ray and DVD.
All of the effects are created by renowned horror make-up artist Giannetto De Rossi, a favorite of late director Lucio Fulci.High Tension has been associated with the New French Extremity movement.In My Skin
In My Skin (French: Dans ma peau) is a 2002 New French Extremity film written by, directed by, and starring Marina de Van. It details the downward mental spiral of Esther, a woman (played by Marina de Van) who engages in increasingly destructive acts of self-mutilation following an accident that injures her leg at a party.Intimacy (2001 film)
Intimacy is a 2001 British film directed by Patrice Chéreau, starring Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox.
Intimacy is an international co-production among production companies in France, the U.K., Germany, and Spain featuring a soundtrack of pop songs from the 1970s and 1980s. It was written by Chéreau with Anne-Louise Trividic, based on stories by Hanif Kureishi (who also wrote a novel of the same title). This mainstream-defined film contains an unsimulated fellatio scene by Fox on Rylance. A French-dubbed version features voice actors Jean-Hugues Anglade and Nathalie Richard.
The film has been associated with the New French Extremity.Irréversible
Irréversible (French pronunciation: [iʁevɛʁsibl]) is a 2002 French psychological thriller drama film, written and directed by Gaspar Noé and starring Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel. The film employs a reverse chronology and follows two men through the streets of Paris as they seek to avenge a brutally raped girlfriend. The film's soundtrack was composed by Thomas Bangalter, one half of the electronic music duo Daft Punk.
Irréversible competed at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and won the Stockholm International Film Festival's award for best film.
Irréversible has been associated with a series of films defined as the cinéma du corps ("cinema of the body"), which according to Palmer share affinities with certain avant-garde productions: an attenuated use of narrative, assaulting and often illegible cinematography, confrontational subject material, and a pervasive sense of social nihilism or despair. Irréversible has also been associated with the New French Extremity movement.
The film was particularly controversial upon its release for its graphic portrayal of violence, specifically the scene where a man is savagely bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher and its 10-minute long take rape of Alex (Monica Bellucci), who is then brutally beaten into a coma. It had accusations of apparent homophobia as well. American film critic Roger Ebert called Irréversible "a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable".Jake Yuzna
Jake Yuzna is an American film director, screenwriter, and curator. His debut feature Open was the first American film to win the Teddy Jury Prize and the Berlin Film Festival and in 2005 Yuzna become the youngest recipient of funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Although known mainly for his work in film, Yuzna has curated several retrospectives, exhibitions and special projects. In 2010, he founded the first cinema program at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. Between 2011 - 2013 he organized the first fellowship, publication and conference to argue nightlife as a form of contemporary art.He has also curated the first American retrospectives of artists and filmmakers including Alejandro Jodorowsky, Sion Sono, Gregg Araki, Francois Sagat, and Quentin Crisp. In addition, Yuzna curated the first museum surveys of Metamodernsim, the New French Extremity, and the medium of VHS.Yuzna is the son of poet Susan Yuzna and nephew to horror film director and producer Brian Yuzna.Joinville Studios
The Joinville Studios were a film studio in Paris which operated between 1910 and 1987. They were one of the leading French studios, with major companies such as Pathé and Gaumont making films there.
A second studio was added to the original in 1923. This was located less than a kilometre away, and together the two served as a major filmmaking hub.In the early 1930s the American company Paramount Pictures took over the studios and made French-language versions of their hit films. In total films were made in fourteen different languages as Joinville became a hub of such multi-language versions. While many were remakes of English-language hits, some were original stories. This practice declined as dubbing became more commonplace.List of apocalyptic films
This is a list of apocalyptic feature-length films. All films within this list feature either the end of the world, a prelude to such an end (such as a world taken over by a viral infection), and/or a post-apocalyptic setting.Martyrs (2008 film)
Martyrs is a 2008 horror film written and directed by Pascal Laugier and starring Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï. It premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival at the Marché du Film, and released theatrically in France on 3 September 2008.
The film was controversial upon its release, receiving polarizing reviews from critics and has been associated with the New French Extremity movement.Meat pie Western
Meat pie Western, also known as Australian Western or kangaroo Western, is a broad genre of Western-style films or TV series set in the Australian outback or "the bush". Films about bushrangers (sometimes called bushranger films) are included in this genre. Some films categorised as meat-pie or Australian Westerns also fulfil the criteria for other genres, such as drama, revisionist Western, crime or thriller.
The term "meat pie Western" is a play on the term Spaghetti Western, used for Italian-made Westerns, relating in both cases to foods are regarded as national dishes.New Gothic
Not to be confused with the Neo-Gothic architectural style.New Gothic or Neo-Gothic is a contemporary art movement that emphasizes darkness and horror.Opera film
An opera film is a recording of an opera on film.Pola X
Pola X is a 1999 French romantic drama film directed by Leos Carax and starring Guillaume Depardieu, Yekaterina Golubeva and Catherine Deneuve. The film is loosely based on the Herman Melville novel Pierre: or, The Ambiguities. It revolves around a successful young novelist who is confronted by a woman who claims to be his lost sister, and the two begin a romantic relationship. The film title is an acronym of the French title of the novel, Pierre ou les ambiguïtés, plus the Roman numeral "X" indicating the tenth draft version of the script that was used to make the film.
The film was entered into the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. Pola X has been associated with the New French Extremity.Romanian New Wave
The Romanian New Wave (Romanian: Noul val românesc) is a genre of realist and often minimalist films made in Romania since the mid-aughts, starting with two award-winning shorts by two Romanian directors, namely Cristi Puiu's Cigarettes and Coffee, which won the Short Film Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival, and Cătălin Mitulescu's Trafic, which won the Short Film Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival later that same year.Secret Things
Secret Things (French: Choses secrètes) is a 2002 French erotic thriller film directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau, starring Coralie Revel and Sabrina Seyvecou. The film is sometimes associated with the New French Extremity. Cahiers du Cinema named Secret Things, jointly along with Ten by director Abbas Kiarostami, as the best film of 2002. The film was awarded the 'French Cineaste of the Year' title at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. In 2005, the director Jean-Claude Brisseau was found guilty of sexually harassing two actresses between 1999 and 2001 during auditions for the film.Transgressive art
Transgressive art is art that aims to transgress; i.e. to outrage or violate basic morals and sensibilities. The term transgressive was first used in this sense by American filmmaker Nick Zedd and his Cinema of Transgression in 1985. Zedd used it to describe his legacy with underground film-makers like Paul Morrissey, John Waters, and Kenneth Anger, and the relationship they shared with Zedd and his New York City peers in the early 1980s.
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