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.
France, it seems, is not unlike the United States in that it has pockets of the country that people avoid unless it's a layover on their way to their real destination. Americans sometimes use the phrase "flyover states" for the places like this, but Alexandra West explores similar locations in France as a metaphor for the "journey between expectation and reality."
In Fabrice Du Welz's 2004 film Calvaire, we get a peek at the "backwater, psycho-hillbilly" type of story that the U.S. finds in films like Deliverance. When Marc, a cheesy entertainer, travels through a small town en route to his next gig, he's trapped by a man named Bartel who's under the delusion that Marc is his estranged wife Gloria. A bevy of horrible stuff happens to "Gloria" at the hands of Bartel and the townsfolk, but West explains that Du Welz somehow manages to portray the sad Bartel as more sympathetic than the shallow Marc.
The antagonist in Kim Chapiron's 2006 Sheitan, the deranged Joseph, may not be more sympathetic than the group of young Parisians that he stalks and kills, but his victims aren't exactly saints either. West observes that before they stray into the backwoods, we see their civility is already fraying at the edges. The primitive townsfolk aren't their opposites, but rather their id unleashed.
The final film from this chapter, Xavier Gen's 2007 Frontiere(s), gives us a very sympathetic heroine in Yasmine, but while the small-town neo-Nazi family she confronts is a brutal bunch of cannibals, they're only worse than the fascist police-state she's fleeing by a matter of degree. And lest you think the film exaggerates the political climate depicted in the opening scenes, keep in mind that they used real footage from events that occurred as tensions boiled over between the conservative Nicholas Sarkozy administration and low-income neighborhoods in the country.
I haven't personally seen Calvaire or Sheitan, but Frontiere(s) is my favorite of the films of New French Extremity. I've always been a big fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and this film as a similar vibe. What's more, given that we in the U.S. have recently been forced to confront our own issues with extreme conservatism and white supremacy, there's something cathartic about watching a Muslim woman fuck up a bunch of Nazis. Although, it's also sobering when she's forced to flee back into the oppressive system that's also eerily familiar to our own.
As West has explained throughout her exploration of these films, New French Extremity forces us to face the parts of society that we'd like to ignore. The films in this chapter take an interesting tact by fooling us into thinking we're going to find these things in the places we normally avoid while sneaking in a confrontation with the ugliness that we take there with us.
Check out Chapter 11 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
- Suel Contre Tout (I Stand Alone)
- Ma Mere