The New French Extreme Through Fresh Eyes
Okay, so I just made it through my sophomore year of college. Finals unfortunately took me away from Flickchart for the last three weeks or so. It was either procrastinate on Flickchart, or do my darnedest to maintain that lame but necessary “C” in my last math class ever. To say that this past semester has been a roller-coaster of emotions would be an understatement. Between projects failing and biased English professors, I was pretty much an emotional wreck. But my refuge was the class that introduced to me to The New French Extreme (or the new Cinema of French Extremity).
So, there I was. About to embark on the most shocking, mind-rocking subject that I’d probably ever study. Don’t get me wrong, I knew what I was getting into with this class. I just didn’t expect it to engulf me like a tsunami and force me to look at filmmaking in a completely different way. Now, before I walked into this class, the most extreme things I’d seen until that point were Irreversible and Antichrist – an experience that soon after walking out of the theater I described as, “someone slapped me in the face and now I’m sad.” Perhaps I couldn’t quite prepare myself for this course, because what I encountered was something of a mixture of shock, awe, and revulsion. I had two screenings a week: one on Monday night, the other on my own in my dorm. It was a matter of starving myself before watching each and every one of those movies. We started with I Stand Alone, Gaspar Noé‘s debut feature film. It was one of my most jarring experiences in cinematic participation, ever. It was, intensely unlikable – which, conveniently was the director’s goal – but I found nothing redeeming in it. I can’t imagine a more unlikable character, and I can’t imagine a more unjustifiable journey of said character. I thought I’d never meet a French film I didn’t like, but here was one staring right at me – incestuous relations and all.
The revulsion continued with Marina de Van‘s In My Skin. I was mortified by the content, but I understood what she was saying about habits of self-mutilation. Still, even with the understanding, I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I found something redeemable in it. While the films of the first half of the semester were disgusting and disturbing, the film that landed smack in the middle of the semester is the one that perfectly pissed me off. That film was L’Humanité, a film that meandered and moved sluggishly along – slower than any film I’d ever witnessed previously. I have never wanted to punch myself harder than when I had to sit through this film. The pacing is so absurd that you have to wonder how the editors restrained themselves from burning all the film reels.
I must say, most of the films that I watched didn’t quite evoke such violent feelings in me. Most of them stunned me into submission. One or two, however, actually sparked something positive inside me. I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed the films – not in the slightest – but certainly there was something there that stopped me from gouging my eyes out. One of them was another film by Noé, the one film in the course that I’d seen before – Irreversible. To use a cliche, that movie cuts me to my core. While some people in my class found themselves desensitized to the horrific 9-minute rape scene, I found myself wiping floods of tears away from my face. I didn’t find it offensive, I found it real. Watching it on the big screen was the most cinematically “real” viewing experience I’ve ever had. Monica Bellucci‘s performance is so gut-wrenching, it’s hard to look away from such a perfectly acted scene. When she tries to gain balance and her fingers tap rapidly against the concrete floor? Wow.
With a completely different tone, I found myself really enjoying Man Bites Dog – minus that film’s terrible rape scene. Maybe it was the hilarious reference to This Is Spinal Tap, or maybe it was the vaguely dark humor. Either way, something struck me with that film. It was the same situation with Catherine Breillat‘s Romance. I have never found the act of S&M so loving than in this movie. It’s not vile, or weird; it’s paradoxically gentle. It causes you to view every other representation of “normal” sex as dirty, unwanted, and sometimes hateful. This may be one DVD that will find itself into my collection – Anatomy of Hell, this is not.
I can’t say I regret taking the class. I’ve seen films that I never would have watched out of my own accord, or ever bothered to search for. It’s strange to have something as relative as movie-watching seem so alienating. It was like watching a film with no one else around, yet there were 25 other people in the auditorium with me. How do you compute such an experience? I hate to consider these films as sort of endurance tests, but really they are. And I, for one, am glad to say that although some of those images can never be erased from my memory – I made it through.
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Amy as bigtuna22 on Flickchart. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.