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The New Extremism in Cinema

The New Extremism in Cinema: From France to Europe

Tanya Horeck
Tina Kendall
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The New Extremism in Cinema
    Book Description:

    Explosive images of sex and violence characterise what has come to be known as the 'new extremism' in contemporary European cinema. This collection of essays is devoted to the new extremism in contemporary European cinema and will critically interrogate this highly contentious body of work.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4709-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)
    Tanya Horeck and Tina Kendall

    This book explores a diverse body of films that have attracted attention for their graphic and confrontational images of sex and violence, and which can be described as part of a trend towards a ‘new extremism’ in contemporary European filmmaking. As with the films it is used to describe, the term the new extremism is a highly suggestive and contentious one, which comes loaded with a range of connotations in this post-9/11 age of religious terrorism. Hence, it is important for us to clarify from the start what it means in a specifically cinematic context. In this collection, we are...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Flesh and Blood: Sex and Violence in Recent French Cinema
    (pp. 18-26)
    James Quandt

    The convulsive violence of Bruno Dumont’s new film Twentynine Palms (2003) – a truck ramming and a savage male rape, a descent into madness followed by a frenzied knifing and suicide, all crammed into the movie’s last half-hour after a long, somnolent buildup – has dismayed many, particularly those who greeted Dumont’s first two features, Life of Jesus (1997) and L’Humanité (1999), as the work of a true heir to Bresson. Whether Palms’ paroxysm of violation and death signals that Dumont is borrowing the codes of Hollywood horror films to further his exploration of body and landscape or whether it...

  6. Part I French Cinema and the New Extremism

    • CHAPTER 3 The Wounded Screen
      (pp. 29-42)
      Martine Beugnet

      No facet of recent French cinema has created as much ambivalence and controversy as the so-called ‘new extreme’ phenomenon that came to prominence in the late 1990s.¹ The appellation itself may turn out to be somewhat misleading as it suggests the existence of a new genre or movement, where there is but a tendency, amongst a number of art directors with highly disparate stylistic and thematic interests, to draw on the kind of shock tactics usually associated with the ‘genres of excess’.² Those films of Assayas, Breillat, Denis, De Van, Dumont, Grandrieux or Noé, to name but a few, which...

    • CHAPTER 4 Reframing Bataille: On Tacky Spectatorship in the New European Extremism
      (pp. 43-54)
      Tina Kendall

      The promotional poster for Christophe Honoré’s second feature film, Ma mère (2004), features a soft-focus, slightly blurry image of Isabelle Huppert, an actress known for her portrayal of sexually perverse, murderous or otherwise pathological characters. She is wearing a provocatively cut dress, and seems to gesture seductively to the viewer with an outstretched hand. Louis Garrel – equally associated with the sexual-transgression-with-a-hint-of-incest formula via his role in Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (Italy, 2003) – appears in the background with his back to Huppert. He is shown stepping over a door’s threshold into an obscure space beyond. At the top of the...

    • CHAPTER 5 Beyond Anti–Americanism, Beyond Euro–Centrism: Locating Bruno Dumont’s Twentynine Palms in the Context of European Cinematic Extremism
      (pp. 55-66)
      Neil Archer

      A man is at the wheel of a car. Before him, through the windscreen, we see a highway of moving traffic. The opening strains of a song play on the car stereo: a Japanese voice singing to a country-style guitar backing. As the man drives, we watch him spool red tape around the high point of the steering wheel. This, it seems, shows him the way to go. The sequence shot is interrupted, revealing a pallid woman sleeping on the rear seat. A mobile phone rings. Cut back to the driver, now viewed from the side. He answers in English...

  7. Part II Becoming Animal:: Posthumanism and the New Extremism

    • CHAPTER 6 Shadows of Being in Sombre: Archetypes, Wolf–men and Bare Life
      (pp. 69-81)
      Jenny Chamarette

      Philippe Grandrieux’s feature films, Sombre (1998), La Vie nouvelle (2002) and, more recently, Un Lac (2008), have generated critical acclaim and controversy in metropolitan France and beyond. At their release, both Sombre and La Vie nouvelle incited critical responses of the type frequently invoked in the face of aesthetically, ethically or politically provocative filmmaking, and in this respect the reception of these films is not unusual. Particularly since censorship has become a less pressing issue in global filmmaking and in the aftermath of the lifting or diffusing of anti-obscenity laws across the globe in the 1970s and 1980s, critical discourses...

    • CHAPTER 7 Eastern Extreme: The Presentation of Eastern Europe as a Site of Monstrosity in La Vie nouvelle and Import/Export
      (pp. 82-92)
      Michael Goddard

      Despite the breakdown of the Cold War division of Europe into separate Western and Eastern political zones, there is still a discernible economic boundary between these two spheres and this is reflected in the ways they are presented cinematically. Whereas Western Europe is presented unproblematically as a synecdoche for Europe as a whole, as its civilised centre, Eastern Europe is presented condescendingly as the ‘new Europe’ as if it had no history prior to 1989 and above all in terms of abjection and monstrosity. This chapter will focus on this presentation of Eastern Europe as a site of the extreme...

    • CHAPTER 8 Naked Women, Slaughtered Animals: Ulrich Seidl and the Limits of the Real
      (pp. 93-102)
      Catherine Wheatley

      Within critical discussions of the new extremism, the figure of Austrian director Ulrich Seidl is all too often conspicuous by its absence. And yet his work demonstrates many of the tenets which underpin the amorphous term, characterised as it is by a rigorous aesthetic and provocative narrative content that spans subjects such as bestiality, pornography and violent misanthropy. Indeed, his first theatrical release, Dog Days, premiered at Venice in 2001 to precisely the type of critical uproar that Tim Palmer sees as both beneficial and foundational to the careers of many of the new extreme directors (Palmer 2006a: 23), prompting...

  8. Part III Watching the Extreme:: Cultural Reception

    • CHAPTER 9 Watching Rape, Enjoying Watching Rape . . .: How Does a Study of Audience Cha(lle)nge Mainstream Film Studies Approaches?
      (pp. 105-116)
      Martin Barker

      Look closely at the two quotations below, which both relate to Catherine Breillat’s À ma sœur! (2003). Although quite different in their conclusions, they share a problematic characteristic. The first is an extract from a summary of the reasons for the decision at the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to cut the final scene of the film:

      There was some concern that the older sister is repeatedly sexualised throughout the film, that this presentation could appeal to haebophiles, and that the scene of her seduction . . . could be used by a potential abuser as a script for...

    • CHAPTER 10 Censorship, Reception and the Films of Gaspar Noé: The Emergence of the New Extremism in Britain
      (pp. 117-129)
      Daniel Hickin

      The late 1990s saw the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) enter a period of transition that would transform the policies and ideology of British film censorship. The changes seen at the BBFC were numerous and wide-ranging, and contributed to the Board adopting an increasingly liberalised approach to film censorship, with a greater emphasis on accountability and classification. The era coincided with the emergence of a number of films now being discussed as part of the new extremism within contemporary European cinema; featuring scenes of graphic violence and explicit unsimulated sexual activity, films such as The Idiots (von Trier, Denmark,...

    • CHAPTER 11 ‘Sex and Violence from a Pair of Furies’: The Scandal of Baise-moi
      (pp. 130-141)
      Leila Wimmer

      X-rated in its home country and censored throughout the world, Baise-moi, Virginie Despentes’s notorious first feature, is a highly controversial example of the new extremism in French cinema. Co-written and co-directed with porn actress Coralie Trinh Thi and starring Karen Bach (Nadine) and Rafaëlla Anderson (Manu), the film’s combination of low-brow, hard-core pornography within a violent neo-noir female revenge narrative provoked such a scandal on its release in Paris on 28 June 2000 that its commercial life was brutally interrupted. Known for taking ‘the representation of sex into a new domain for French women’s cinema’ (Tarr and Rollet 2001: 284),...

    • CHAPTER 12 ‘Close Your Eyes and Tell Me What You See’: Sex and Politics in Lukas Moodysson’s Films
      (pp. 142-154)
      Mariah Larsson

      In the autumn of 2004, Swedish poet and director Lukas Moodysson released his fifth feature film, Ett hål i mitt hjärta/A Hole in My Heart. Most Swedish film reviewers praised the film and its maker, but the film was only seen by around 25,600 spectators in the cinemas. Moreover, some of these 25,600 spectators actually left the theatre during the screening.¹ Regardless of the fact that there is often a rift between critical and audience responses to films, these statistics are still noteworthy, especially considering the large audiences that Moodysson’s earlier films had attracted. His second comedy Tillsammans/Together was actually...

  9. Part IV Ethics and Spectatorship in the New Extremism

    • CHAPTER 13 Lars von Trier’s Dogville: A Feel-Bad Film
      (pp. 157-168)
      Nikolaj Lübecker

      Over the last fifteen to twenty years Lars von Trier has firmly established himself as one of the best-known provocateurs in international cinema. This reputation results from a combination of at least three elements. Firstly, the ideas explored: many of von Trier’s films combine religious, psychological, sexual and political themes in ways that are bound to provoke. Secondly, the Lars von Trier persona: he is notorious for scandalous remarks at press conferences (referring, for example, to Polanski as ‘the midget’, himself as ‘the greatest director in the world’ and George W. Bush [less provocatively?] as ‘an asshole’) and for performances...

    • CHAPTER 14 A ‘Passion for the Real’: Sex, Affect and Performance in the Films of Andrea Arnold
      (pp. 169-179)
      Tanya Horeck

      What does the idea of the ‘new extremism’ mean in the context of contemporary British filmmaking? According to the title of a recent article in The Guardian newspaper, we are currently witnessing ‘The rebirth of the British art film’. Citing a range of films from Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, 2006) and Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008) to Katalin Varga (Peter Strickland, 2009), Andrew Pulver writes that these ‘visionary’ art-house films go beyond the kitchen sink social realism that British cinema is famed for, to offer a ‘new filmmaking style’. This new crop of films, while...

    • CHAPTER 15 Interrogating the Obscene: Extremism and Michael Haneke
      (pp. 180-191)
      Lisa Coulthard

      At the Cannes Festival press conference for Das Weisse Band/The White Ribbon in May 2009, Michael Haneke made what is perhaps the most important and yet deceivingly simplistic interpretative comment on his films: ‘All my films are about violence.’ To anyone familiar with Haneke’s œuvre, this is perhaps exceedingly obvious, but this seeming transparency only serves to make the unpacking of the statement more crucial. What does it mean for a film to be about violence and how do Haneke’s films do this? While it is necessary to be critical of accepting wholesale interpretive frameworks advocated by the filmmaker himself...

    • CHAPTER 16 On the Unwatchable
      (pp. 192-206)
      Asbjørn Grønstad

      In his review of Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible (France, 2002), celebrated movie critic and connoisseur Roger Ebert begins by observing that the film is ‘so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable’ (Ebert 2003). Reporting from the Cannes festival six years later, on 17 May 2009, Ebert’s writing is wound up, impassioned. He has just come out of a screening of Antichrist (Denmark, 2009), the instantly notorious film by Lars von Trier, which he rather glowingly describes as ‘an audacious spit in the eye of society’ (Ebert 2009a). The director, he raves, ‘is not so much making a...

  10. Afterword

    • CHAPTER 17 More Moralism from that ‘Wordy Fuck’
      (pp. 209-213)
      James Quandt

      ‘Flesh and Blood: Sex and Violence in Recent French Cinema’ began as a brief review of Bruno Dumont’s then latest film, Twentynine Palms (France, 2003). Shocked by Palms in all the wrong ways, and feeling betrayed by a director whose early work I had taken considerable stock in, even the largely disparaged L’Humanité (France, 1999), I intended to puzzle out the reasons for Dumont’s descent into gore and hard core, whether it was a mere exaggeration of the brute corporeality of his previous cinema, or something more disturbing: a submission to fashion. With its stilted, unconvincing performances, delivered largely in...

  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 214-217)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 218-230)
  13. Index
    (pp. 231-242)