New French Extremity  

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"Bava as much as Bataille, Salò no less than Sade seem the determinants of a cinema suddenly determined to break every taboo, to wade in rivers of viscera and spumes of sperm, to fill each frame with flesh, nubile or gnarled, and subject it to all manner of penetration, mutilation, and defilement." --James Quandt, Artforum

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

New French Extremity (or New French Extremism) is a term coined by Artforum critic James Quandt for a collection of transgressive films by French directors at the turn of the 21st century. The filmmakers are also discussed by Jonathan Romney of The Independent.

Quandt associates François Ozon, Gaspar Noé, Catherine Breillat, Bruno Dumont, Claire Denis' Trouble Every Day (2001), Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy (2001), Bertrand Bonello's The Pornographer (2001), Marina de Van's In My Skin (2002), Leos Carax's Pola X (1999), Philippe Grandrieux's Sombre (1998) and La vie nouvelle (2002), Jean-Claude Brisseau's Secret Things (2002), Jacques Nolot's La Chatte à deux têtes (2002), Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi's Baise-moi (2000), and Alexandre Aja's Haute tension (2003) with the label.

While Quandt intended the term as pejorative, many so labeled have produced critically acclaimed work. David Fear indicates that the lack of humanity beneath the horror represented in these films leads to their stigma, arguing that Bruno Dumont's Flanders (2006) "contains enough savage violence and sexual ugliness" to remain vulnerable to the New French Extremity tag, but "a soul also lurks underneath the shocks". Nick Wrigley indicates that Dumont was merely chastised for "letting everybody down" who expected him to be the heir to Robert Bresson.

Jonathan Romney also associates the label with Olivier Assayas' Demonlover (2002) and Christophe Honoré's Ma mère (2004).

Tim Palmer has also written about these films, describing them as constituting a "cinema of the body." Palmer has argued that such films reflect a large scale stylistic trajectory, a kind of avant-garde among like-minded directors, from Catherine Breillat to François Ozon, along with contemporary figures such as Marina de Van, Claire Denis, Dumont, Gaspar Noé, and many others. Palmer situates this tendency within the complex eco-system of French cinema, underlining the conceptual diversity and artistic scope in French cinema today.


Jonathan Romney traces a long line of (mainly French) painters and writers influencing these directors, beginning with the Marquis de Sade, and including Gustave Courbet's 1866 L'origine du monde, Comte de Lautréamont, Antonin Artaud, Georges Bataille, William S. Burroughs, Michel Houellebecq, and Marie Darrieussecq. He locates filmic predecessors in Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, Roman Polanski, Jean-Luc Godard's Le weekend, Andrzej Zulawski's Possession, and Michael Haneke. Quandt also alludes to Arthur Rimbaud, Buñuel, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Georges Franju, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Guy Debord, Walerian Borowczyk, Godard, Psycho, Zulawski, Deliverance, Jean Eustache's La maman et la putain, and Maurice Pialat's A Nos Amours as models, but criticizes that the contemporary filmmakers so far lack the "power to shock an audience into consciousness".

John Wray notes that these filmmakers show less affection for Hollywood films than their New Wave predecessors, and take after Jean Renoir as well as Bresson. He also notes the long shots and enigmatic story-telling stye of Dumont and the Dardenne brothers.

The expanded term "The New Extremism", referring to European filmmakers such as Lars von Trier, Lukas Moodysson, and Fatih Akin, has subsequently appeared.

New wave of French horror

Some films considered as part of the New French Extremity rework elements of the horror genre. Other contemporary French horror films with a similar sensibility include Sheitan, Calvaire, Ils, Frontier(s) and À l'interieur.

See also

artsploitation, French cinema, transgressive film

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "New French Extremity" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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