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 chapter 4 of Films of the New French Extremity, Alexandra West examined movies that explore the relationships have with women, people of color, and/or those seen as being in lower classes, particularly in terms of sexuality. Not surprisingly, such exploration finds these relationships to be fundamentally flawed as they are measured by their value to straight, white, men.
If chapter 4 examines the attitudes in which people are viewed as objects, chapter 5 looks at the extreme endpoint of such a relationship by exploring films about serial killers. As it turns out, serial killers have a long history in France, starting with one of their earliest, Gille de Rais. De Rais, West explains, was Joan of Arc's bodyguard and Marshall of France. He is also reported to have brutalized and murdered over 140 children. De Rais serves as the prototype for the looming threat of brutality in an otherwise idyllic countryside, a theme present in both of the movies covered in this chapter, Sombre (1998) and L'Humanite (1999).
Sombre, a movie by Philippe Grandrieux, tells a story about a traveling puppeteer cum serial killer following the Tour de France who meets a young virgin named Claire who is drawn to his dark predilections while he in turn finds himself wanting to distance her from them. L'Humanite, a film from Bruno Dumont, follows a police superintendent in a small French town in the wake of the rape and murder of an eleven-year old girl.
West's analysis seems to place both films in the realm of fable, with Sombre serving as a dark fairy tale and L'Humanite presented as a parable. What separates them is their focus, with Sombre dwelling in the point of view of the killer and L'Humanite exploring how communities react to brutal acts.
Of the two, I'm most interested in seeing Sombre, especially given director Grandrieux's assertion that as a fairy tale, we aren't supposed to look at his film through the lens of real world morality. I've been finding this to be true more and more often in good horror movies, as the audience is allowed to accept characters or situations we would find irredeemable in real life. I recently discussed a similar concept in a review I did for William Friedkin's 2007 movie Bug (**Shameless Plug Alert**), and I'll be interested to see if I'm able to apply this conceit to Sombre.
It occurs to me that we're a little less than halfway through Films of the New French Extremity, and as of yet I haven't personally seen any of the films that West has discussed. Well, the good news is that in the next chapter (now featuring cannibals!) I have actually seen one of the films that West discusses. The bad news is that I was not a fan. If you're interested in finding out the identity of the movie in question and to see if West's analysis can make me see the movie in a new light, make sure you check out my next installment.
Check out the Chapter 6 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)
- Sombre (Dark)
- Suel Contre Tout (I Stand Alone)