This week, Trent Film Society is screening Pascal Laugier’s New French Extremist film Martyrs, as part of our focus on horror cinema for the month of October.
We loosely paired it with Korean director Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil, which similarly to Laugier’s Martyrs, centres around horrific tragedy, as well as exacting revenge, and exploring just how far one will go to achieve a sense of closure when faced with adversity.
What is this term, “New French Extremism (NFE)?” What exactly does it mean? Coined by Artforum critic James Quandt in 2004, New French Extremism is used to refer to specific films, such as those by directors Gaspar Noé (Irreversible, 2002), François Ozon (Criminal Lovers, 1999), Catherine Breillat (you may remember her film Fat Girl, which TFS screened in Fall 2012), Claire Denis (Trouble Every Day, 2001), and Leos Carax (Pola X, 1999), just to name a few.
NFE, as you guessed it, refers to specific films that came out of France, particularly at the beginning of the 21st century.
While not all NFE films are inherently horror, the label refers to films that have been described as “a crossover between sexual decadence, bestial violence, and troubling psychosis” (Edwin N., mubi.com).
Most NFE films typically belong to the arthouse and horror genres, or otherwise an amalgamation of the two.
NFE films focus on exploring various subjects (topics that typically go undiscussed in mainstream American cinema) ranging from sexuality and gender identity, to sexual assault and violence, to body image issues, religious discourse, and philosophical thought.
NFE portrays bodies on-screen in ways that tend to violate the viewer, piercing them and inducing discomfort physically, mentally, and emotionally.
NFE film is particularly interested in exploring the deeper crevices of the human psyche, often in ways that offer an alternative point of view, whether it be through experimental cinematography, excessive use of violence and sex, and/or unconventional narrative forms. Film scholar Matt Smith (thesplitscreen) says that NFE horror films provide a “comprehensive snapshot of human anxieties about our bodies, both corporeally and socially.”
Martyrs director Pascal Laugier dubs his film the “anti-Hostel,” (referring to Eli Roth’s American torture-porn film from 2005).
Laugier also says of Martyrs: “My film is very clear about what it says about human pain and human suffering. […] The film is only really about the nature and the meaning of human suffering. I mean, the pain we all feel on an everyday basis – in a symbolic way. The film doesn’t talk about torture – it talks about the pain.”
I’ve deliberately avoided relaying plot and story details about Martyrs, simply because the less you know about the film prior to experiencing it, the deeper the impact it will have.
I will leave you with one final quote, again from film scholar Matt Smith: “As the French seem intent to prove, it is not our corporeal existence that should be held sacred – [their] insistence on showing anything and everything is evidence of this. The body is meant to be examined, explicitly and externally, to deepen our understanding of our own humanity…and what we hope lies in wait for us at the end of it all.”
Please join us for a free screening of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs on Wednesday, October 8 at 8pm @ Artspace (378 Aylmer Street N.). All are welcome!