Extreme French cinema plumbs darkest depths

Karen Lancaume in Baise Moi.</p>

French films have always had a tendency to startle the most jaded horror movie fans, going back to the 1950s, with landmark thrillers such as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterpiece Les Diaboliques (1955) or Georges Franju’s 1959 gory face-transplant classic Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face).

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, France’s film industry seemed intent on reclaiming their stature with a whole new subgenre of films, dubbed by one critic as “The New French Extremity” with shockers such as Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension (2003).

The subgenre’s intellectual undercurrent was one of the appeals for Olivia Norquay, who became a programming co-ordinator at Cinematheque in April. Norquay, 34, is an unabashed horror fan, which she demonstrates with her weekly Sunday afternoon radio show Bikini Drive-In, a freewheeling discussion of genre movies on CKUW, 95.9FM.

Karen Lancaume in Baise Moi.

Norquay says her appreciation grew in earnest in her time working for the late lamented DVD/record store Music Trader in Osborne Village.

“My love for the genre really grew once I started working (there) and I had access to a variety of films,” she says. “But I’ve been interested in the genre since I was young, with things like young adult horror fiction like the Fear Street books and supernatural shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

“I started watching slasher films when I was a teenager,” says Norquay, who considers Wes Craven’s Scream her favourite movie.

Extreme horror is a different kettle of chum, however. Yet the genre’s extreme violence and overall gruesomeness did not scare off Norquay.

Tricia Vessey and Vincent Gallo in Trouble Every Day.</p>

Tricia Vessey and Vincent Gallo in Trouble Every Day.

“I think what I find appealing about extreme films is that I’m able to focus any fears or general malaise onto these challenging movies, especially after the chaos of the past few years,” Norquay says. “Films of the New French Extremity genre are also very political and you can see the filmmakers working through social anxieties.

“For example, Martyrs deals with ideas surrounding trauma, the effects of violence, classism and philosophy,” she says. “It’s a devastating movie but is dismissed as a torture porn film.

“I think the point of some art is to make audiences uncomfortable,” she says. “Hopefully, this series will allow for audiences to reflect on some challenging themes and images in a safe and familiar space like Cinematheque.”

In that, Norquay is following in the footsteps of former Cinematheque programmer Kier-La Janisse, who worked in her hometown around 2008, a fact Norquay learned only recently.

Béatrice Dalle as an intruder coming for the baby of pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) in Inside.</p></p>

Béatrice Dalle as an intruder coming for the baby of pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) in Inside.

“I was a big fan of her writing,” Norquay says, pointing specifically to her 2012 book House of Psychotic Women, a deep dive into the horror genre combined with Janisse’s own personal evolution as a critic and a woman.

“I can relate to that,” she says. “I think horror and extreme films allow for viewers to think about trauma, violence or social anxieties in almost a fun way.”

The French films on view at Cinematheque also allow Norquay to explore those ideas with a radio audience.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be able to bring my radio show/podcast to Cinematheque once a month,” she says, dropping a tidbit of shows to come next month in time for Halloween.

“Without giving too much away, I’m planning a Canadian horror marathon for Halloween, featuring some classic slashers and new Canadian horror films,” she says. “For that event, I’ll be discussing David Cronenberg’s The Fly. Cronenberg films are fun to talk about because they’re both so intellectual yet visceral.”


Twitter: @FreepKing



Baise-Moi (2000)

A shocker from co-writer/directors Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi, based on the novel by Despentes, this film follows two women (Karen Lancaume and Raffaëla Anderson) on a violent rampage through France, fuelled by their treatment at the hands of men. Lancaume, Anderson and Trinh Thi had all had experience in the realm of porn, and the film’s explicit sex scenes inspired accusations of pornography. But the co-directors countered that argument with the case that the film was not erotic, though the film was banned in places such as Australia and Ontario. The film screens Friday, Sept. 24 at 9 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 12 at 9:10 p.m. and Thursday, Oct.14 at 9:10 p.m.

Trouble Every Day (2001)

Director Claire Denis (High Life) directed this grisly oddball erotic thriller starring Vincent Gallo as a doctor who goes to Paris with his wife (Tricia Vessey), ostensibly for their honeymoon. In fact, he has come to hunt down a neuroscientist and his wife, Coré (Béatrice Dalle), a vampiric serial killer. It screens Saturday, Sept. 25 at 5:05 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 30 at 9:15 p.m. and Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. (Critic Alexandra West, author of a book on the New French Extremity, will participate in a Q&A following the screening on Saturday, Sept. 25.)

Martyrs (2008)

An international co-production of France and Canada, this controversial film from director Pascal Laugier follows Lucie and Anna (Mylène Jampanoï and Morjana Alaoui) on a mission of revenge against the people who abducted and tortured them as children. It screens Saturday, Sept. 25 at 9 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 2 at 9:05 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.

Inside (2007)

With their first film, directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo contrive a brutal home invasion thriller pitting a very pregnant woman (Alysson Paradis) against a mysterious attacker (Béatrice Dalle) apparently intent on stealing her baby. It screens Sunday, Sept. 26 at 5:05 p.m., Friday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 6 at 8:55 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m.

Randall King

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