The ‘New French Extremity’ genre of French cinema is a contemporary category that focuses on movies dealing with explicit gore and violence. The term was coined by a film critic named James Quandt. He invented this label for films that were transgressive from the popular and mainstream bodies of cinema. In contemporary times, filmmakers like Gaspar Noe, Francois Ozon and Catherine Breillat have been the protagonists in making this genre available and pervasive to a larger film audience. The wave of French Extremity genre has found influences from both art and older generation of filmmakers.
James Quandt coined the phrase of the ‘New French Extremity’ in his article titled “Flesh and Blood: Sex and Violence in Recent French Cinema”. This article was originally just meant to be a review. The review would be of a film by Bruno Dumont’s, named ‘Twentynine Palms’. However, Quandt was seemingly shocked at the well-known director’s succession into hardcore representation of blood, guts and explicit violence. Moreover, the then current style of filmmaking was contradictory to this new kind of illustration. However, as the 21st century progressed, so did exploitation cinema.
The wave of ‘New French Extremity’ might be labelled by some as exploitative in terms of women’s sexuality and the lack of agency thereof. For instance, many films that belong to this genre use rape as a tool of cinematic progression. This is problematic on a twofold level. Primarily, filmmakers using something as traumatic as rape as an instrument to further the plot. Consequently, this becomes a reductive symbolism for sexual violence. Furthermore, women are often noted to be on the receiving end of sexual, or any kind of violence. Hence, this perpetuates a harmful stereotype that women’s bodies are more susceptible to vehemence. Moreover, they are mostly at the mercy of the male antagonist who is beastly and ferocious.
Another symbolism which is further perceived to be problematic is that of women embodying masculine roles. This is mostly done to overcome traumatic incidents that they were forced to encounter initially. This has become a motif for filmmakers of the ‘New French Extremity’ even in the recent decade. An example of this can be seen in the movie ‘Revenge’. The movie follows a meek woman who is abused and becomes a masculine counterpart of her abusers to exact the titular revenge.
However, for some viewers this genre of French Extremity horror is only a visceral depiction of violence which is most often overlooked. For example, in the 2008 movie ‘Martyrs’, we see the filmmaker imbibe religion and graphic violence together. The movie deals with a fanatic cult who exercise torture on random woman to find a higher meaning to life and spirituality. This can be noted as a metaphor for violence that exists in religions all across the globe. Furthermore, in a 2003 movie titled ‘High Tension’, the filmmaker tries to deal with the suppressive emotions of homoeroticism. This suppression is seen to be manifested in extremely violent and graphic ways.
Movies in this decade like the 2016 ‘Raw’, also deal with commercial horror themes of cannibalism. Additionally, movies like ‘Inside’ have also dealt with classic home invasion or intruder genre of horror, albeit in more graphic ways.
Some critics label the French Extremity movement as “torture porn’, where viewers derive corporeal pleasure from violence. Others have taken a more liberal stance to this category and have called it a simple representation of body horror. Nonetheless, the French Extremity movement is not just limited to French cinema. Korean and Japanese cinema have also ventured into graphic filmmaking with movies like ‘Oldboy’ and ‘Ichi the Killer’, respectively. Consequently, Hollywood too has movies which fall under this genre. For example, ‘The Human Centipede’ collection. Hence, the New French Extremity movies though are traditionally perceived to be a violation to viewers, its impact can be noted through time and age.