New French Extremity

18Oct10

[FR : Excité de découvrir le mouvement “New French Extremity” du cinéma français contemporain, j’ai fait une synthèse de plusieurs articles afin de mieux comprendre quels réalisateurs y sont associés.]

A flashbulb went off in my head when I stumbled on the definition of this film genre. I had already seen some of these films, but had never noticed their congruities. Kudos to those who did. I decided to learn more.

Basically, this is a movement in contemporary French filmmaking – arguably the most exciting, and certainly the most controversial – built on confrontation, provocation, and excess, which questions society and humanity in rather elemental terms.

The roots go back about 10 years. Therefore, the definition and characterization of this genre is still taking place. As far as I can tell, there are very few thoughtful and complete articles on the subject. I decided to synthesize the content of multiple, selected articles in search of a consensus that could guide me in choosing films.

One problem is that two of the pioneering articles date from 2004, and therefore do not take more recent films into account. Additionally, the first – quite brilliant – article, by James Quandt in ArtForum, which deserves much praise and respect for having identified the genre, is actually quite negative and critical, for example calling Twentynine Palms “absurd, false, and self-important”.

Another issue is that some sources cite only directors, rather than films. This can be misleading in the (common) case where all of a director’s works are not in the genre.

Finally, as Zneb reminded me, you should beware of categorizing artwork: it is not like categorizing potatoes. But I feel justified because my motivation was to better understand these films and view more of them.

My approach:

  • search the web
  • select the articles that seem best
  • tally which ones consider which films/directors to be “part of the movement”
  • complete the table with the results of a Google search for each filmmaker’s name plus “New French Extremity” (both strings in quotes). This gives a certain idea of how frequently they are associated on the web.

This is not perfectly scientific, but gives some interesting ideas.

I put the results in a spreadsheet. Click to see it.

Directors prominent on the list are: Bruno Dumont, Catherine Breillat, Claire Denis, Gaspar Noé and Marina De Van. Films that are particularly prominent in the articles include: Twentynine Palms, Trouble Every Day and Irréversible.

As I am not interested in making this a lifelong project, so please do not send me questions, additions or suggestions. Accolades are welcomed.

Enjoy watching the films!

The articles I chose:
James Quandt
Jonathan Romney
Martine Beugnet, Martin Barker
Nicholas Green
Tim Palmer

Unranked additional references of possible interest:
alienmorph
Eerie Books (toward bottom of page)
Wikipedia
Carlos Pardo particularly for its wonderful subtitle: CRIME, PORNOGRAPHIE ET MÉPRIS DU PEUPLE

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3 Responses to “New French Extremity”

  1. 1 Willa

    How would you align this genre to the style of Takashi Miike?

    • Hmmm, I’m not worthy to reply, but does his work have a subtext criticizing society and humanity, or is it simply pushing the bounds?

      • 3 Willa

        I see the alignment in your description of the French genre as “built on confrontation, provocation, and excess, which questions society and humanity in rather elemental terms.” There are different cultural representations of those same elements. Miike started in the proverbial garage, like Wozniak, et al. But you make a good point, that a director does not comprise a genre, necessarily, where as a group of films may. To wit, Miike’s comedy/musical/horror “The Happiness of the Katakuris.” I’ll follow-up on the French aspect soon.


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