Top 10: New French Extremity
Side Note: Trouble Every Day should, according to everyone, be on this list, but I haven’t seen it yet. When I get around to it, it’s absolutely possible that it joins the list. For the purposes of this list, I am going to rate these films more on the “extremity” value rather than the cinematic value. This leaves out some of the favorites of this genre, such as Michael Haneke’s Cache or Catherine Breillat’s Romance. While these are great movies and certainly follow the “style” of the New French Extremity, the only thing they really add is unfiltered sex (and damn good movies, to be fair). All of the movies on this list cater to fans of more extreme cinema with one exception, and that exception has a bit of a twist near the end that proves its value beyond added sex scenes. More on that later…
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOLERS
Or more on that right now! Secret Things is, ostensibly, a movie about sex and power and the ways in which people in the world wield them both. The only reason that it falls this low on the list is that its not particularly extreme, but it is an outstanding film, acted well from top to bottom and with the type of direction the Academy Awards were made for. Absolutely loved this film.
9. SHEITAN (SATAN)
This one’s just plain creepy. Vincent Cassel, in all his insane glory, is excellent in this film as the shepherd Joseph, and he leads us headlong into a night of insanity and bizarre twists and turns. Worth a watch just for the food scene alone. One of the more tame on the list, though, which keeps it lower numerically.
8. ENTER THE VOID
This was an incredibly hard list to make, and Enter the Void is one of the biggest reasons why. It’s an amazing film, and visually one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. Gaspar Noe is right near the top of my favorite directors list, and this was my second foray into his cinema. Haunting, beautiful, and batshit crazy, Enter the Void is one of those movies that you’re not entirely sure you should be watching but is experienced more than viewed.
Laurent Lucas’ Marc finds himself in the middle of a backwoods Hatfields v. McCoys type feud when his van breaks down in the middle of the woods. This is, essentially, the French Deliverance, but it is “delivered” (see what I did there?) in a much more insane, almost dreamlike, way. An excellent film with some excellent performances, particularly by Jackie Berroyer and Philippe Nahon, who, spoiler alert, stars in our next film as well.
This was actually my first Noe film, and to say it blew me away would be understating by quite a bit. In fact, this was my first experience in nihilistic film in general, which perhaps makes me a bit late to the party. A deeply disturbing film about a man who desires to have sexual relations with his daughter, Philippe Nahon is at his absolute best as a disgusting piece of shit who also happens to be the star of the film. Perhaps Noe’s best work, but also somehow not his last entry into this list.
5. FRONTIERE(S) (FRONTIER(S))
This movie is batshit crazy. The opening occurs during a political riot in Paris that can be easily related to the events happening in Portland in the past several years. After fleeing the riot, a group of protestors end up holing up in an inn run by neo-Nazis. Once there, one of the protestors is deemed to be the perfect “mother” for a new master race. And then more bad shit happens. This one was originally supposed to be part of the 8 Films to Die For, but received an NC-17 rating and was left off of the list. Crazy ass movie, definitely worth a watch, and one of the more extreme films on this list but falls short when compared to the next three.
4. HAUTE TENSION (HIGH TENSION)
A bloody, gory, disgustingly fun ride, with one of the craziest twists in cinema history, High Tension is a must see for any horror fan. This was my introduction to the New French Extremity movement, and I literally was left with my jaw dropped to the floor by the end. Such a great movie and so worth a watch. Alexandre Aja, better known to most American moviegoers as the director of The Hills Have Eyes remake and the shitty-but-also-kind-of-fun alligator movie Crawl, does an excellent job of subverting both your expectations and also horror movies in general in this film.
3. A L'INTERIEUR (INSIDE)
The ultimate in movies you don’t want to show your pregnant wife, Inside is one of the gorier movies on this list. This movie is, literally, just about a woman who is being tormented inside her home by someone who wants her baby. However, it lets every bit of the horror within that sentence manifest itself onto the screen. The “bad guy,” known only as La Femme, is played magnificently by Beatrice Dalle, and this film is about as hopeless as it gets. Chef’s kiss wonderful, check this one out if you haven’t seen it.
2. IRREVERSIBLE (IRREVERSIBLE)
One of the most creatively directed films of all time, Irreversible is essentially a revenge story told in reverse. It’s also probably Gaspar Noe’s most famous film (which is a shame, because he’s fucking incredible). A lot of people won’t watch this movie just because of the 9 minute rape scene (which, admittedly, is extremely hard to watch), but they’re missing out, because Irreversible is a fucking masterpiece. Almost the entire movie is improvised by the actors, which speaks more to Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci’s enormous talent more than anything. Roughly ten percent of the audience walked out when it was debuted at Cannes, which is nuts and also a huge compliment to Noe. Truly great film.
Holy hell, this movie… Most would argue for Irreversible at the top spot, but those who have seen all these movies need to really stop and reconsider Martyrs. It’s one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, but it is also incredibly haunting and beautiful with one of the most nihilistic endings of any film ever made. As the credits rolled on my first viewing, I just sat blinking at the screen for at least ten minutes, unable to move or speak. It’s a truly incredibly movie about a woman’s pursuit of revenge and the price she must pay, and its discourse on God and the meaning of life is essential viewing for any fan of cinema that can stomach its contents. Absolutely brilliant, one-of-a-kind movie.