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.
As you may have noticed if you've been following along at home, one of the prominent themes present in Films of the New French Extremity is that I have not seen a single one of the movies covered thus far by Alexandra West. You may be happy to find out, then, that this week presents the first of the NFE films that I've actually seen.
West kicks off this chapter by introducing an alternate moniker for NFE films coined by Tim Palmer: cinema du corps (cinema of the body). Palmer asserts that these movies are very visceral and focus on the body. Within this lens West first tackles Trouble Every Day, a 2001 film from Clair Denis. And this is it, gang. Trouble Every Day first movie that I, your humble reviewer, has actually seen for himself. Alas, it appears as though that many of the characteristics that draw West to this film are the very ones that failed to connect with me. On paper, I figured I'd love this movie that follows Core and Shane, two people in separate relationships who suffer from an affliction that gives them uncontrollable cannibalistic cravings whenever they're aroused.
Such a premise hinted at a movie with raw, visceral, deeply emotional storytelling. Instead we get a film that leans in the opposite direction, as West explains much of the dread comes from the artifice the characters utilize to suppress their urges. To convey this feeling many of the scenes are disjointed and the acting intentionally forced, and West's discussion certainly makes me appreciate the film's themes. But as a viewing experience I found immersion difficult, due partially to the film's unorthodox narrative structure as well as the decision to cast Vincent Gallo as Shane. There's something about that guy that makes me feel like I need to go take a shower whenever he's on screen.
Of course it turns out that the movie I haven't yet seen, the 2002 Marina de Van film In My Skin, seems to be much more my speed. In it, Esther is a successful young woman who, after accidentally cutting her leg, discovers that she enjoys the act of cutting herself to the point of obsession. This, of course, places In My Skin deep into the territory of body horror that was pioneered by David Cronenberg and, as West explains, saw a resurgence in the turn of the 21st century as people's dependence on technology grew.
As West explores Esther's spiral into self-exile and -mutilation, she discusses our urge to isolate ourselves in a society where we are often expected to perform in some way. Esther's cutting sessions are the only time where she doesn't need to be "on," but at what cost? As we feel compelled to isolate ourselves further, our ties to community are severed and we're left alone in times of need.
While De Van explores this on a micro level, it actually reminds me of research done at a macro level, such as a book about the 1995 heat wave in Chicago where hundreds of people died over the course of several weeks. Those most heavily affected were people isolated by poverty and institutional racism. As society continues to push people away, either through the unrealistic social norms depicted in In My Skin or through the lack of social empathy displayed in disasters such as the Chicago heat wave, it will continue to leave those isolated in more vulnerable positions.
Next up, West tackles the NFE take on love in France, but given what we've seen so far, I wouldn't expect us to delve into any Kevin Kline/Meg Ryan movies. Stay tuned to see how it plays out.
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)
- In My Skin
- Suel Contre Tout (I Stand Alone)