BFI Southbank announce full programme for CRUEL FLESH: FILMS OF THE NEW FRENCH EXTREMITY

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,withHadžihalilovic attending in person),and Gaspar Noé, the latter of whom will also be subject of a special focus in May.

FOCUS ON: GASPAR NOÉ coincides with the release of the filmmaker’s new work VORTEX (2021), and will include in person appearances from the director. The centrepiece event of the focus will be Gaspar Noé in Conversation on 10 May, during which the one-of-a-kind filmmaker will reflect upon his work so far, including VORTEX, which will be on extended run at BFI Southbank when it is released in cinemas UK-wide by Picturehouse Entertainment on 13 May. There will also be a NEW FRENCH EXTREMITY collection on BFI Player, available concurrently with the BFI Southbank season.

Contextual events during the NEW FRENCH EXTREMITY season will including opening event SEX AND DEATH, BUT MAKE IT ARTHOUSE, a richly illustrated talk from season curator Anna Bogutskaya on 3 May that will introduce the key titles, filmmakers and thematic preoccupations of this distinct film movement. There will also be an online panel discussion – HORROR À LA FRANÇAISE – available for free on BFI YouTube from 11-31 May, hosted by Bogutskaya with guest experts Alexandra West, author of Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National IdentityAlexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of 1000 Women in Horror, and Lindsay Hallam, who researches horror, gender and the body. As part of the season a four-session course running every Tuesday – CITY LIT AT THE BFI: NEW FRENCH EXTREMITY – led by Dr Paul Sutton, will consider the historical, cultural, social and political context for this phenomenon and seek to examine a number of these films in detail.


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, tolook 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.