Sunday, April 15, 2018

Chapter x Chapter Review of FILMS OF THE NEW FRENCH EXTREMITY Chapter 8: Without Borders

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 our last installment, Alexandra West took us on a romantic tour of some of the horrible things that people can do to one another within the bounds of an intimate relationship.  This time around, West delves into how our desire within those relationships can clash with the outside world.

In Patrice Chereau's 2001 film Intimacy, the clash is rather tame by the standards of the New French Extremity as it involves a simple affair.  Protagonists Jay and Claire have an arrangement for consistent, anonymous sex each week.  The crux of the conflict comes when Jay realizes he desires more than sex, but Claire is unwilling to leave her family or stop having the affair in order to conform to the ideal role assumed on her by Jay or her husband, Andy.  I'll admit I had to read this segment a couple of times because I thought that I missed the scene where everyone meets a tragic or grisly end.

Not to worry, though, because if you need your NFE to show you the worst in people, it seems as though you can just move on to Olivier Assaya's 2002 Demonlover, so named for the underground extreme sadomasochism site in the shadow's of the film's conflict.  West describes a film in which the protagonist, Diane, navigates her way through corporate espionage The technology and luxury in the forefront serves as a veneer to hide the desires represented by Demonlover, with scenes of graphic sexuality often playing in the background on screens behind the characters.

I know we've got a way to go until the end of the book, but I have to say that Demonlover is a strong contender for the NFE film that holds the least interest for me.  I get the sense that the combination of corporate villainy and coerced sexual depravity would just remind me of the state of U.S. politics and would just depress me.  The premise of a shadowy, extreme media entity does remind me of Videodrome, and I'm intrigued by anything that seems to be influenced by David Cronenberg.  But then again James Woods is in Videodrome.  Now I'm depressed again.

Christopher Honore's Ma Mere (2004) delves into dark territory that's on-brand for NFE, but it contrasts with Demonlover in that the characters are portrayed in a more sympathetic light.  In fact, West explains that Georges Bataille, who wrote the book on which the film is based, often asserted the philosophy of "base materialism," which denied any higher morality and sought to normalize those things that society would view as dirty.

In Ma Mere, "dirty" takes the shape of a romantic relationship between seventeen-year-old Pierre and his mother, Helene.  Following the death of his father, Pierre learns that his parents' indulged in sexual behavior that he never knew about, and the movie follows him as his mother guides him through his own sexual exploration.  Of course, as a movie of the NFE the inevitable conclusion (**spoiler alert*) includes the two having sex and Helene killing herself.

West notes, however, that the ending, while tragic, is not meant to be viewed with judgement.  In fact, much of the sex in this movie is depicted as intimate more than deviant.  So if NFE films are about challenging the viewer, in this case it seems as though we're being challenged to empathize with characters whose desires are seen as morally unacceptable.

West covered quite a bit of celluloid in this chapter, with three movies that seem to take on varying themes and tones.  Next chapter, however, we focus only on one movie.  And it's one that I'm guessing will be familiar to anyone reading a site devoted to horror.  Plus, it's one of which my opinion is very...high.  Trust me, you'll get that when I reveal the movie in the next installment.  It still won't be funny, but you'll get it.  See you next week!

Check out the Chapter 9 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
  • In My Skin 
  • Criminal Lovers
To-Watch List for Those Braver Than Bryan:
  •  Suel Contre Tout (I Stand Alone)
  • Ma Mere 


  1. I'm really curious about the inclusion of INTIMACY since, based on the description and as you said, it doesn't seem very NFE. I'm curious what qualifies it then? Or even as horror.

    As much as DEMONLOVER sounds like not my bag, it does seem like a good fit for a Dead Ringer pairing with VIDEODROME (though I'd probably rather find something people enjoy and want to talk about haha).

    Feel like your summary of MA MERE exemplifies why I struggle with NFE. I'm all for empathizing with people you wouldn't normally, but...some of this gets real weird.

    1. I actually wondered the same thing re: Intimacy. The only thing I can think of it being "extreme" is that there are unsimulated sex acts.