Welcome back to another installment of the Chapter x Chapter series, a column where I take a deep dive into horror reading with a new review for each chapter of the book. The first book of this series is Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity by Alexandra West. If you're looking to start from the beginning, I recommend you check out my introduction.
In the last installment, Alexandra West guided us through the films of Gaspar Noe that dare audiences to reflect on the vile and brutal realities that many people in France would have liked to have kept in the shadows after World War II. For my part, I acknowledged that while Noe's films have cultural significance, I probably wouldn't have the stomach to visit them myself.
The films for the chapter "Body Commodification," however, put me in a quandary as even though there appears to be plenty of misery to go around, there's also some interesting statements made about how women, people of color, and different classes are treated more as objects than they are as human beings.
West pivots her structure a bit in this chapter as she focuses more on themes than on a particular filmmaker. Romance, a 1999 film from Catherine Breillat, follows a woman pushed to sexual limits. Pola X, another 1999 film by Leo Carax, centers on a young man of privilege whose worldview is forever altered by the revelation of a half sister whose life has taken a drastically different path than his own. And finally, Baise-Moi, a 2000 film by Virginia Despentes and Coralie Trinh, focuses on two women who come together after separate sexual assaults and begin a mayhem filled road trip that shakes the establishment.
Sexuality seems the dominant thread through these films, as West notes that intimacy is inextricable from New French Extremity. But it seems that it's through sexuality that the filmmakers explore how straight, white males (of which I am one) tend to contextualize other people primarily in their value in relation to us. And how, dear reader, might we react when we're confronted with the idea that women don't stop being sexual beings when they get pregnant, or that if we push people we deem lower than us too far they might just react to that in less than peaceful means? Well, if West's description to public reaction of these films is any indication, we're not super keen on it.
Like Noe's movies, I've never seen anything from this chapter prior to reading the book. Unlike Noe's movies, however, I think I'm going to need to check them out. In particular, I'm intrigued by Baise-Moi, a movie West notes has comparisons to a movie likely to be more well known in the U.S., Thelma and Louise. Given that I've never actually seen that, either, I think it could make for a good double feature.
For the next installment, West mentions the phase "serial killer" in the first sentence, so it looks like things are going to get interesting. Stay tuned.
Check out the Chapter 5 installment here.
Bryan's To-Watch List:
- Le Manoir du diable (The Haunted Castle)
- Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon)
- Les Diabolique
- Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face)
- Le Viol du vampire (Rape of the Vampire) or really anything from Jean Rollin
- Baise-Moi (Can be translated as either Rape Me or Fuck Me)
- Suel Contre Tout (I Stand Alone)