Wednesday 27 April 2022


The BFI have announced full details of CRUEL FLESH: FILMS OF THE NEW FRENCH EXTREMITY, a season of brutally compelling films that explore intimacy in a violent world. Running throughout May at BFI Southbank the programme explores the unique moment in cinema history that sent shockwaves through arthouse sensibilities.
This season, curated by writer, broadcaster and film programmer Anna Bogutskaya, will feature the work of filmmakers such as Claire Denis (TROUBLE EVERY DAY), François Ozon (CRIMINAL LOVERS), Leos Carax (POLA X), Marina de Van (IN MY SKIN), Lucile Hadžihalilovic (LA BOUCHE DE JEAN-PIERRE, with Hadžihalilovic attending in person), and Gaspar Noé, the latter of whom will also be subject of a special focus in May.
The mutual influence of Noé and Hadžihalilović can be best felt in their mid-length debuts CARNE (Gaspar Noé, 1991) which introduces us to The Butcher (Philippe Nahon), a nameless nihilist who tries to raise his daughter consumed by rage and LA BOUCHE DE JEAN-PIERRE (Lucile Hadžihalilović, 1996) which sees a young girl struggle after witnessing her mother attempt suicide. These films will screen in a double bill, with the screenings on 12 May being followed by a Q&A with Lucile Hadžihalilovic (who also edited CARNE). Perhaps one of the cruellest films ever made, IRREVERSIBLE (2002) is built around Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci, trading on their popularity and charisma as a real-life couple to make their violent descent even more assaulting. Told in reverse-chronological order, it follows Marcus (Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel), who set off on a blind rage of revenge after the former’s girlfriend Alex (Bellucci) is raped. Full details of FOCUS ON: GASPAR NOÉ can be found in the May press release for BFI Southbank.
The closest thing to a comedy to be found in this programme, MAN BITES DOG (Benoît Poelvoorde, 1992) is a Belgian mockumentary that follows a crudely charismatic serial killer who is delighted to be the subject of a documentary that will cover his thoughts on the ‘craft of murder’ and classical music. In a retelling of Hansel and Gretel through a tacky tabloid lens and a distinct anti-authority vibe, CRIMINAL LOVERS (François Ozon, 1999) follows teenage Alice (Natacha Régnier) as she convinces her boyfriend to murder her lover, but after the deed is done they’re both trapped by a strange old man in his cabin in the woods.
In ROMANCE Catherine Breillat, 1999), both physical and emotional intimacy is graphically explored in this tale of self-discovery which Breillat herself called ‘not a sex movie but a movie about sex’. The screening on 6 May will be introduced by King’s College London’s Catherine Wheatley, who will then be joined by film philosophers Lucy Bolton and Richard Rushton for a Philosophical Screens talk on the same evening, to look at the film’s graphic exploration of sex and the body.
POLA X (1999), Leos Carax’s sparse adaptation of Herman Melville’s Pierre: or, The Ambiguities, follows the incestuous affair between a novelist and his long-lost sister, and the obsessive depths they fall into in order to stay together despite rejection from everyone around them. Co-directed by French feminist provocateur Virginie Despentes, and based on her book, BAISE-MOI (Virginie Despentes, Coralie Trinh Thi, 2009) is a blunt, brash and blood-smeared revenge tale of two sex workers who decide to go on a killing spree through France. Claire Denis surprised everyone by following up her acclaimed BEAU TRAVAIL (1999) with cannibal love story TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001). Afflicted by a mysterious disease that makes them crave human flesh, American scientist Dr Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) hopes he might find a cure in Coré (Béatrice Dalle), the ravenous wife of a former colleague. The film will include an intro from writer and creative Sophie Monks Kaufman on 3 May.
Marina de Van who writes, directs and stars in the film IN MY SKIN (2001) digs into the grossness of the body in excruciating close-ups, crafting a melancholic body-horror. After a car accident, a Parisian marketeer (de Van) becomes obsessed with self-harm; the dissociation of her character with herself manifesting as an inability to feel pain or pleasure. A ridiculously violent slasher with a controversial twist, HIGH TENSION (AKA SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE) (Alexandre Aja, 2003) marked the New French Extremity’s pivot into pure horror, taking American influences and raising the terror not one, but several dozen notches. In it, Marie (Cécile de France) and Alexia (Maïwenn), two friends taking a trip to a secluded cabin in the woods, are attacked relentlessly by a beastly killer.
In the exceptionally creepy Belgian horror, THE ORDEAL (Fabrice du Welz, 2004) A traveling entertainer becomes stranded in a remote mountain town and is taken in by an affable local, who nurtures a dangerous obsession. Without any women or music, Fabrice du Welz deliberately avoids horror clichés to make something truly strange. In THEM (David Moreau and Xavier Palud, 2006) a French couple vacationing in an idyllic country house in Bucharest is targeted by mysterious assailants who lure them into a sadistic game of survival. No home is safe, no one can be trusted – not even children – in the horror films of the New French Extremity.
Perhaps one of the most brutal Christmas-set movies ever to come out of France, INSIDE (Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, 2007) combines gore, home invasion and slasher tropes. Sarah (Alysson Paradis), heavily pregnant and grieving the loss of her husband, becomes the target of a quiet, smoking woman (Béatrice Dalle) committed to taking Sarah’s child for herself – by force. The season will end with the most recent release, MARTYRS (Pascal Laugier, 2008). The apex of the new wave of French horror the film divided the critics at its Cannes premiere. Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) claims revenge against the people who kidnapped and tortured her as a child, unwittingly leading herself and her friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) into a trap. The film is infected with violence: brutal, unforgiving, and perhaps the holy grail of gore, but never seems exploitative.
Many of the films in this season contain scenes that some viewers may find distressing; content warnings are provided in the season listings.
For more info and to book tickets visit the BFI Website.
Season listings:

Sex and Death, but Make It Arthouse
TRT 100min
Tickets £6.50
TUE 3 MAY 18:10 NFT3

Horror à la Française
TRT 60min
Free to view on the BFI YouTube channel from 11-31 May as part of BFI at Home

City Lit at the BFI: New French Extremity
Course includes an optional seat for the season intro talk on Tue 3 May. While care will be taken in the presentation of sequences from these films and in the discussions around them, please be aware that some material might be challenging. 
For more details, and to book your place, please contact City Lit on: 020 7492
2652 quoting course code HF310

France 1991. Dir Gaspar Noé. With Philippe Nahon, Blandine Lenoir, Marie Berto. 40min 35mm EST
SUN 1 MAY 11:50 NFT2
+ La Bouche de Jean-Pierre + Q&A with Lucile Hadžihalilovic
France 1996. Dir Lucile Hadžihalilovic ́. With Sandra Sammartino, Denise Aron-Schropfer, Michel Trillot. 52min.
Digital. EST
Contains scenes of suicide that some viewers may find distressing
THUR 12 MAY 20:45 NFT3

Man Bites Dog C’est arrivé près de chez vous
Belgium 1992. Dirs Benoît Poelvoorde, André Bonzel, Rémy Belvaux. With Benoît Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux,
Jenny Drye, Malou Madou. 96min 35mm EST. 18
Contains scenes of graphic violence that some viewers may find distressing
MON 2 MAY 15:10 NFT3 / TUE 10 MAY 20:55 NFT3

Criminal Lovers Les Amants criminels
France 1999. Dir François Ozon. With Natacha Régnier, Salim Kechiouche, Jérémie Renier. 96min 35mm EST. 18
WED 4 MAY 20:50 NFT3 / SAT 14 MAY 12:00 NFT3

Romance Romance X + intro by Catherine Wheatley, King’s College London*
France 1999. Dir Catherine Breillat. With Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stévenin, François Berléand, Rocco Siffredi.
99min. Digital. EST. 18
Contains scenes of unsimulated sex and sexual violence that some viewers may find distressing
Also available on BFI Player
FRI 6 MAY 18:00 NFT2* / TUE 17 MAY 20:45 NFT3

Philosophical Screens: Romance
TRT 60min
Free to ticketholders of Romance on Fri 6 May, otherwise £6.50 (must be booked in advance due to capacity)

Pola X
France-Switzerland-Germany-Japan 1999. Dir Leos Carax. With Guillaume Depardieu, Yekaterina Golubeva,
Catherine Deneuve. 134min 35mm EST 18
THU 5 MAY 20:25 NFT3 / SAT 28 MAY 17:50 NFT3

France 2000. Dirs Virginie Despentes, Coralie Trinh Thi. With Karen Lancaume, Raffaëla Anderson. 77min. Digital.
EST 18
Contains scenes of violence and sexual violence that some viewers may find distressing
Also available on BFI Player
SUN 1 MAY 18:20 NFT2 / SAT 7 MAY 20:50 NFT2

Trouble Every Day + intro by writer and creative Sophie Monks Kaufman*
France-Germany-Japan-Luxembourg 2001. Dir Claire Denis. With Béatrice Dalle, Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vessey, Alex
Descas. 101min 35mm EST. 18
Contains scenes of sexual violence that some viewers may find distressing
TUE 3 MAY 20:30 NFT3* / TUE 24 MAY 20:45 NFT2

In My Skin Dans ma peau + intro by Catherine Wheatley, King’s College London*
France 2001. Dir Marina de Van. With Marina de Van, Laurent Lucas, Léa Drucker. 95min 35mm EST. 18
Contains scenes of self-harm and mutilation that some viewers may find distressing
SAT 7 MAY 17:50 NFT3* / THU 19 MAY 20:40 NFT3

Irreversible Irréversible (theatrical version)
France 2002. Dir Gaspar Noé. With Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Albert Dupontel. 97min. Digital. EST. 18
Contains scenes of violence and sexual violence that some viewers may find distressing
Also available on BFI Player
SAT 21 MAY 17:45 NFT3

High Tension (aka Switchblade Romance) Haute Tension + pre-recorded intro by author Alexandra West*
France 2003. Dir Alexandre Aja. With Cécile de France, Maïwenn, Philippe Nahon. 91min. Digital 4K. EST. 18
Contains scenes of graphic violence that some viewers may find distressing
MON 9 MAY 18:00 NFT2* / SAT 28 MAY 12:20 NFT3

The Ordeal Calvaire
Belgium-France-Luxembourg 2004. Dir Fabrice du Welz. With Laurent Lucas, Brigitte Lahaie, Gigi Coursigny.
92min 35mm EST. 18
MON 2 MAY 12:30 NFT3 / SUN 22 MAY 18:20 NFT3

Them Ils
France-Romania 2006. Dirs David Moreau, Xavier Palud. With Olivia Bonamy, Michaël Cohen, Adriana Mocca.
77min 35mm EST. 15
Contains scenes of graphic violence that some viewers may find distressing
MON 16 MAY 20:50 NFT3 / SUN 29 MAY 18:20 NFT3

Inside À l’intérieur
France 2007. Dirs Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury. With Alysson Paradis, Jean-Baptiste Tabourin, Béatrice Dalle.
82min. Digital. EST. 18
Contains scenes of graphic violence that some viewers may find distressing
SAT 14 MAY 20:50 NFT2 / THU 26 MAY 18:20 NFT3

France-Canada 2008. Dir Pascal Laugier. With Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin. 99min.
Digital. EST. 18
Contains scenes of graphic violence and strobe lighting that some viewers may find distressing
Also available on BFI Player
SAT 28 MAY 20:50 NFT3 / TUE 31 MAY 20:40 NFT3

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