Hey! It was suggested in the MARTYRS thread that there should be a recommendation thread for other films of the French New Extremity, so I wanted to kick that off with some key titles. I'd look forward to any discussion about these films or the culture around them in general!
First up, my top two (aside from Martyrs):
TROUBLE EVERY DAY -- dir Claire Denis (2001)
This ostensibly a vampire film of sorts -- starring Vincent Gallo as a scientist on a honeymoon who spends his visit in Paris trying to track down a missing colleague. Béatrice Dalle (who was the star of the 80s French film Betty Blue) plays a woman afflicted with a kind of erotic cannibalistic vampirism.
Up until this point, Claire Denis was considered one of the greatest filmmakers in the world, and so when this film came out -- with extreme sex + violence, and an uncompromisingly abstract structure that refuses to clue you in to what's happening -- people were confused and downright mad at her. Personally, I feel this is one of those incredible movies that creates an overwhelming (and very dark) experience from beginning to end -- it's something that you really FEEL. It's a story about the worst side of relationships, and in a way that I believe typifies this kind of movie, it depicts the neglect and dissolution of a relationship using visceral images and an uncompromising tone of despair. If that sounds like a good time to you, put this one on the top of your list! Great soundtrack by Tindersticks too!
INSIDE -- dir Julien Maury and Alexander Bustillo (2007)
A pregnant woman (very pregnant -- a day away from giving birth) is stalked by a psychotic woman (again played by Beatrice Dalle!) who wants the baby. This movie is RENOWNED among French horror buffs for being among the most bloody -- though I'd say it's much more FUN than Martyrs, as it eschews torture for a more violent version of Halloween and it has nothing in it to challenge the viewer's complicity. This is a super well made movie with one twist after the other and some crazy turns of tone. These filmmakers have recently made the forthcoming LEATHERFACE for Hollywood, whatever that's worth.
So having named those two for your Beatrice Dalle double feature of endless French blood, I'd divide a few other selections into two categories -- there's the New French Extremity that comes from the art/drama side of filmmaking, and the ones that are much more clearly in the HORROR genre but with a wildly artistic French point of view. It being October, let's jump into the horror first:
CALVAIRE (aka THE ORDEAL) dir Fabrice Du Welz (2004)
This is the first film I saw out of all this stuff, and it blew my mind. A young man winds up stopping at by a house on the edge of a small village, and boy is that regrettable. The shape of this is recognizably similar to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but every choice -- from the protagonist's hero to the filming style to the reveal of bad guys -- is a surprising upside-down world twist on the genre. This is the movie that had me thinking "French filmmakers grew up watching slashers AND European art films. Don't @ me that the filmmaker is Belgian. The director has made several other INCREDIBLE films, including ALLELUIA (2014) which is a beautifully shot version of The Honeymoon Killers.
FRONTIER(S) dir Xaviar Gens (2007)
A group of Arab youths caught up in Paris riots after a right wing candidate wins the presidency steal cash and escape to the country -- where they wind up at an Inn run by a family of psychotic cannibal neo-nazis. A brutal french version of Texas Chainsaw, this is twisty, turny, fun, VERY well filmed, and totally nuts. It is very CLEARLY about racial and class tensions in France but plays out that conflict through chains hooks and secret passages.
THE NOT-HORROR FILMS
These are the films that have genre elements or are certainly horrifying but which, quite simply, would not be found in the "horror" section of your streaming algorithm.
IRREVERSIBLE dir Gaspar Noe (2002)
Plot wise, this is a rape-revenge story told in reverse scene order (the director has boldly admitted he ripped off Memento's structure). It begins with a horrific revenge murder, passes through an unbelievably brutal rape, but then ends with the mundane peaceful that precedes these events. This movie has some of the most insanely inventive and aggressive filmmaking techniques in modern cinema -- the camera moves and spirals around the characters in a way that makes you feel insane; the soundtrack -- by Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter -- is a hyper kinetic, menacing electronic explosion; and the perfomances (particularly Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci) are on fire. The cinematographer is Benoit Debie, who also lensed SPRING BREAKERS, LOST RIVER, THE RUNAWAYS, and all of Noe's subsequent films.
This movie -- especially the 9-minute rape scene -- can be a very hard watch, but as is typical with these french films it tempers the difficulty of the content with an incredibly vivacious filmmaking style that forces you to stay gripped. I personally have a very hard time with on screen rape, but this is nevertheless a stand out movie.
DEMONLOVER dir Olivier Assayas (2002)
This one is a bit less on the extreme side of explicit violence but it is a bonkers ultra stylish movie about corporate intrigue, videogames, online porn, and kidnapping. Prior to this, Assayas had made the charming and bizarre IRMA VEP starring Maggie Cheung and has more recently directed THE CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA and PERSONAL SHOPPER. This one is twisty-turny and sparkling with a kind of Cronenbergian other-wordly shine.
ROMANCE (1999) and ANATOMY OF HELL (2004) dir CATHERINE BREILLET
Breillet's work has been a non-stop deep dig into sex and relationships as power struggle and violent expression. Breillet goes all the way back to acting in Last Tango in Paris and has made it her life's work to combine explicit (very explicit) sex with a desperate yet weary desire to uncover what human intimacy can possibly be once the world has ground out hope. If that sounds like a good time...
IN MY SKIN dir Marina De Van (2002)
Another tough watch -- this one from an uncompromising woman using body horror to express the anxiety and alienation of modern workplace ambition. The director wrote and also STARS in this movie in which a woman -- on the cusp of a big promotion and an escalating relationship -- becomes addicted to self harm when she discovers she has a very high pain threshold. It's an extremely unnerving film whose high dramatic moments include a scene where she drinks to much wine at a crucial client dinner and fights the urge to cut herself open in front of her boss. RELATABLE.
There's TONS more interesting films from this group, but here's a starter set -- I'm hoping people are interested enough to jump into the thread and post their own reactions, rebuttals, cheers, and recommendations!