Tag Archives: Catherine Breillat

I’m not sure where filmmakers lost sight of the reality of romantic relationships, but it seems important to remind them that jealousy is not part of the process of developing a healthy partnership. I’m thinking of two Canadian films: Clement Virgo’s Lie with Me (2005) and Bruce McDonald’s The Husband (2013).  The problem with both these features is that jealousy is taken to be a natural and accepted facet of compulsory monogamy.


In Lie with Me, David falls for Leila. Later, Leila is “caught” dancing with two men. David then berates her, names her a slut, and forces anal sex upon her. Leila apologizes, will never dance again, etc. We see Leila panic, in various states of crises; we see the effects of misogyny on her and unfortunately she cannot help but participate. In short, stronger female characters are necessary. Had this film been made in France, by Catherine Breillat for example, David’s jealousy would have led him to murder; but in the end, the two reconcile their differences, and fall even deeper in love.

David’s desire for complete possession of Leila is, in fact, not a natural part of their budding relationship. It is nothing short of psychotic. The only legitimate response that Leila should have given David, and in other romantic love stories of this type, is Gloria’s in Gloria (2013): she tells her jealous partner to “Grow a pair.”

McDonald does us worse in The Husband. There, jealousy attains an ever greater legitimacy as Henry’s wife is caught fornicating a teenage boy. Henry’s friends and family “understand” the husband’s plight; not only had the wife broken their (impossible to uphold) promise of monogamy, but it was with a minor. Any erratic behavior then, on Henry’s part, is totally rational.

I’m sick of this approach to love. Dominating a partner is for the dark, psychological narratives that border on horror films. This is its place, not in the positive and affirming (quasi-realistic?)  love story. I want to see fictional couples growing a pair and addressing jealousy in all its seriousness: as an unhealthy aspect to love, not a small and necessary part in a relationship’s process or striving for longevity.


I apologize for the length. My humorous title plays on the length a bit, something to the effect of: this post is long enough to warrant multiple chapter headings.


Abdellatif Kechiche’s “freely inspired” Blue is the Warmest Color turned one of the most powerful and unique stories of love into one of the blandest and universally accessible. The graphic novel was rich in character development, narrative, plot, dialogue, internal monologue (in the form of diaries), surprise, beauty, and color. Kechiche’s film transplants these wonderful elements into the mundane. We have seen this film before, save approximately 10% of the film comprised of expertly choreographed and shot sex scenes. Nevertheless, Blue is an art film in the worst sense of the word.

The film refused all the elements of the novel that I found so engaging, so my problems are about adaptation and narrative. First, and most importantly, Adèle’s diary has almost no place in the film. The novel was structured on the diary. Beginning with Emma’s brief residence in Adèle’s parents’ home, she reads through her former lover’s personal thoughts after her death. This becomes all the more interesting as the flashbacks inform us that Adèle’s parents exiled their daughter because of her relationship with Emma. In the film Adèle keeps a diary every now and then and, as if Kechiche had forgotten, about two-thirds into the film, Emma mentions to a friend that her lover keeps a diary and is an excellent writer. It is never broached again because, given the ending of the film, it would be superfluous.

The conflict between Adèle and her parents is omitted from the film additionally. In the novel Adèle moves from her childhood home and into a place with Emma. In the film, in perfect accord with the ambiguity of art film, Adèle appears as a live-in partner with Emma quite spontaneously. This would seem to mark the elusive second chapter in the film’s French title (La vie d’ Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2). No intertitle indicated chapters. In the novel, what was a heart-wrenching scene, full of tears and screams and an ejection and disavowal of their daughter, in the film, the lovers’ choice to live together is neither monumental nor terribly interesting.

The break-up between Emma and her former lover, thus replacing this monogamous partner with Adèle, is not discussed in the film. Again, in the novel, we have a confrontation between Adèle and Emma’s partner; the film does not bother to address the complications of the partner swap. What the film does feature, unfortunately, is a very jealous Adèle, a jealousy which then gives her the impetus to cheat on Emma and the latter’s subsequent ejection of the former from her home once the extra-monogamous affair is exposed. Adèle, in tears and without the capacity to account for her affair, is destroyed by Emma’s seemingly justified dissatisfaction and disapproval of non-monogamy.

And, at more than three-quarters through the story, I felt completely disappointed in the refocusing of the original narrative. A beautiful story of a young girl’s coming-of-age, her new desires for Emma, her difficulties with heteronormativity, are here turned into a universal account of a love story on par with heteronormativity (monogamy, jealousy, etc.). What is more rational, justified, and universally understandable than, firstly, jealousy and cheating, and secondly, punishment for cheating! My reading of this event in the film is that it serves as a deliberate attempt to make an otherwise inaccessible and mostly unidentifiable couple accessible and identifiable, i.e., psychologically bland and undifferentiated from popular psychological states and responses. Look here, the film seems to say, same-sex couples have the same problems as heterosexual couples! While certainly true, the novel does nothing of the sort. Julie Maroh’s graphic novel presents two unique individuals whose problems begin, first, internally, then expand into familial issues, and lastly, broach the complicated reception of friends and society of their same-sex love. Kechiche was less inspired by the novel than misinterpret what made the story so wonderful.

Take an early scene in Maroh’s book. Adèle and Emma are growing attached and fond of each other. Emma says her goodbyes for the day and, almost in tears, mentions to the sexually uninitiated Adèle that she will one day make a man very happy. Internally, we see Adèle reflect that Emma is in fact the one she wants. She rushes after her and, in this passionate scene, the two perhaps have the best sex of their lives (Adèle most certainly, since it is her first time).


In the corresponding scene in the film, the two lay next to each other in a park. Smiles are exchanged, they kiss, and the next scene is one of the five sexual encounters the film depicts. The passion has been extinguished from the beautifully drawn and dialogued graphic novel. In the novel I was almost weeping; the film bored me with this bland display of seduction.

In a recent Cineaste review (Spring 2014), Darragh O’Donoghue briefly mentions the adaptation problem as well. He writes, “Kechiche’s relationship to his source material is problematic. Whatever the merits of a much-garlanded middle-aged male filmmaker in adapting a work begun by an author in her late teens and completed over five years as a labor of love – and ironically for a film now famous for its lesbian sex scenes – it is clear that Kechiche’s charges serve to ‘un-queer’ its narrative. Maroh inserts her comic into a long-established tradition of coming-of-age/coming-out stories,” and the film clearly changes this focus.

The superiority of the graphic novel is evident, to say nothing of the film’s omission of Adèle’s death. In her brief review of the film for the Criterion edition, Rich could not praise the film enough. Rich outlines the performances, the cinematography, the tactile quality of many of the images, and many other cinematic feats of a seasoned professional filmmaker. Blue is a thoroughly an art film, thus garnering the Palme d’or at Cannes last year. The film, however, takes its cues from David Bordwell’s analysis of art film.

As I’ve mentioned Blue goes to great lengths to deny a cause and effect narrative logic. It presents a heightened realist style, complete with real spaces, direct cinema cinematography, temporal gaps, and eroticism. It is naturally episodic, episodes which sometimes grant us access to the life of Adèle, other times not. The story of the graphic novel is shunned in favor of plot: “who is telling this story? How is this story being told? Why is this story being told this way?” I’m not sure how to answer any of these questions. Refer to Maroh’s book perhaps.

Furthermore, Adèle’s life is without a goal or meaning, thus Emma’s insistence that she become an artist and be more than a nursery school teacher. There is no real indication of the social or cultural forces at work conspiring against same-sex relationships, something the novel exposed with both clarity and apt critique. Rich notes the timely release both in France and the United States, both countries undergoing massive conflict about same sex marriages, yet Kechiche does not dive into such problems.

Overall the film succeeds in rendering itself ambiguous, Bordwell’s key term for a description of art cinema. Ambiguity plays itself out perfectly in the very last shot, again living up to Bordwell’s analysis of art films, namely a feature’s open-endedness. As Adèle exits Emma’s art show after bearing witness to her former lover’s new life with a new partner, the last shot is of Adèle strolling away down a street. Kechiche might as well have done a long tracking shot and ended on a close-up freeze frame of her face. But what will become of Adèle?? we think leaving the cinema or when turning off our blu-ray players. Kechiche knows about the ambiguities of life, we surmise; “he knows that life is more complex than art can ever be, and the only way to respect this complexity is to leave causes dangling, questions unanswered.” Blue is an art film, no less. As Bordwell suggests in his 2007 afterword to his earlier piece on art cinema, success at film festivals secures a feature’s status as art film. There were fewer films more successful than Blue last year.

I suggested at the beginning of this entry that this love story, touted by one critic as the greatest of the 21st century, is nothing new. In fact, if I had the time and space, I would argue that this film has already been made, both recently and in the same country. Mia Hansen-Løve’s Goodbye First Love (Un amour de jeunesse, 2011) follows the same narrative arc and takes place over the same amount of time. A young high school girl meets and has a relationship with her first love; they break up, get back together, and encounter each other later in life. The two films share too many similarities to bother naming, the key difference being the earlier film’s heterosexual couple. My difficult task, like Vivian Sobchack’s in her article in Film Comment (Jan-Feb, 2014) on Upstream Color (2013) and To the Wonder (2012), would be to make an argument as to why I prefer Goodbye to Blue. Sobchack’s recourse to poetic imagery to justify her preference is insufficient to say the least. I suppose a good reason to prefer Goodbye is its ambiguity; while we are left dangling, in exactly the same way Kechiche leaves us dangling, Hansen-Løve hints that the memory of that first love will shape all other loves. There is thus something ironic in the title in that one can never truly say goodbye to their first.

All my complaints aside, the eroticism of Blue is worth praising. Rich is correct in pointing to the sex scenes between Adèle Exarchopoulous and Léa Seydoux and admiring them. I’ve yet to read about the actresses’ possible mistreatment at the hands of the filmmaker and his team, but the result is as wonderful as the nude sculptures on display in the film. I enjoyed the emphasis on the characters’ backsides as something like a motif. More importantly, there has not been a sexually explicit film that takes the pleasure of its characters so seriously. Long gone are the dispassionate if not disturbing sex scenes found in the films of Kechiche’s French peers (Bruno Dumont, Gaspar Noé, Catherine Breillat, to name a few). In Blue the multiplicity of positions, the emphasis on vocalizing pleasure, the tendency of the camera to almost get down and dirty with the performers, make the scenes stand out from the bland story otherwise presented. Rich incorrectly suggests the camera documents every crevice, for it is still taboo in art cinema to show female genitals, even in a film as erotic and artful as this one (although the unsimulated sex is, I think, unquestionable).


Critics are right to return again and again to the few sex scenes. They are as memorable and as beautifully choreographed as they are explicit.

One last note on the Criterion edition: it had been approved by the director, which is something necessary for a film of this magnitude. What has been neglected are the lack of special features. The Criterion edition, whose products are often crammed full of interviews and commentary, features a trailer – available online anywhere -, an 18 second “TV spot,” and a short written piece by Rich. In the absence of visual content, there could have perhaps been a short text on just exactly what the controversy was regarding the actresses’ performances, or perhaps a reprinted interview with the director. For the price, this edition is lacking in substance for the cinephile or curious observer. That being said, I can forgive Criterion because the necessity of releasing the film quickly, while the hype still lingers, is certainly a smart and profitable move.

Part 1


I’ve been enthused about Bruno Dumont’s films since beginning my study of contemporary cinema. While I appreciate his films up to and including Flanders (2006), his films after 2006 seem to have fallen a little short of his aesthetic goals, or, a hint at some work to be done in the future, he has been too concerned about the competition between himself and Carlos Reygadas (a real competition or something I’ve alone noticed). Dumont and Reygadas share the same stylistic and thematic interests: long takes, long scenes, tableau rather than cause and effect plot, non-professional actors who resemble Bressonian models, an emphasis on the look/personage of the performer (Eisenstein perhaps), sparse dialogue, lack of psychological depth, unclear temporal frame, madness and violence, ambiguous sexual encounters (shot explicitly), religiosity (monotheism), religiosity and interpersonal relationships, religiosity and community, and miracles, to name a few.

Dumont’s first four features had less to do with religiosity than his most recent three which are explicitly religious or transcendentalist in tone, plot, and story. This is despite his professed atheism. Reygadas, a self-proclaimed Catholic, has followed the same trend: his first two features secular or atheistic – Battle of Heaven (2005) merely had the backdrop of Catholicism but was not its focus – and his two latest films overly transcendentalist (in Schrader’s sense). Silent Light (2007, an homage to C.T. Dreyer’s Ordet [1955]) ends with a miracle and Post Tenebras Lux (2012) begins with Satan or a satanic creature.

Dumont says that cinema is the perfect medium for spirituality, “its tendency to cut to the core and reveal to us the very substance of beings and objects” (Cineaste, Fall 2013). He goes on to say that the foundation of religion is in fact art, and “future art will replace religions and their institutions.” In his statement there appears a drive to move beyond the religious, yet, he cannot seem to wrench himself free of it. I suggest that Dumont’s inability to get out of religion is, as he says, because of cinema’s “fairly extraordinary ability to transfigure [reality]” on the one hand, and on the other, the generic conventions of the contemporary art film.

Camille Claudel 1915 (2013) is the most ambiguously spiritual of Dumont’s recent films. It is devoid of story, although contains some plot or events. We have Camille Claudel (Juliette Binoche), the sculptress/artist, in 1915. At this time in her life she was a patient, held perhaps against her will, in an institution for the mentally unstable. We are informed early on that her brother Paul will pay his first ever visit on Saturday. She anticipates his visit. An hour into the feature we are introduced to a very spiritual Paul. He makes his way to Camille; they have an exchange. Paul then exchanges spiritual words with a priest or priest-figure who works at the institution. The film ends in medium close-up on Binoche.

In the art film I identified the lack of an investigation into characters’ psychology as an essential feature. Given this trait of art cinema, is there a better person and set of characters to depict than those in a mental health institution?

First, the patients around Claudel. Their motivation and relationship to Claudel is, as expected, ambiguous. Claudel is occasionally asked by nurses to care for some patients momentarily and is treated by doctors and nurses as if she is not as physically, emotionally, psychologically unstable as the others. The “real” patients are there to contrast Claudel’s position as one in which she should perhaps not be there. In the doctors’ and nurses’ recognition of Claudel’s condition, the relationship between her and the employees is not further developed, and therefore ambiguous. An old and seemingly uninterested psychologist challenges her on some angry remarks about Rodin, but no further evidence of her psychological instability is really addressed.

Seen from a different angle, the other patients take on a meaning of their own. In the first cafeteria scene, three women are eating their meals. Their words indecipherable, their banging on the table and playing with food providing a real sense of improvisation or authenticity. These characters, or perhaps persons, look as if they really belong there. Another component of the art film genre I have not yet mentioned is its capacity for producing the real – not realism as a style, but confronting spectators with the real, a reality. In this case, perhaps these individuals require care by healthcare professionals. The whole scene had the feeling of an Ulrich Seidl feature, or the direct cinema of Frederick Wiseman and Allan King.

Towards the end of the film, Camille’s closest patient (friend?) informs her that Paul has arrived. Dumont lingers in a close-up of this patient, here, I think, like someone informing the wise men of Jesus’s birth in year zero – she is a messenger of the good/Good/God. This woman has the same look of transcendence as David Dewaele at the end of Hadewijch (2009) and during the miracles of Hors Satan (2011). Something “more” (deeper meaning) lurks behind their acts, thus the lingering close-ups, but less intensely in Camille.

Second, the character Claudel. For Dumont, this is the first use of a well-known professional actor, or in better words, the first use of a star. (Twentynine Palms [2003] featured professional actors, but they were not stars.) Dumont chose Binoche because Claudel herself was a star, and the former also an artist. “To create by using an artist is like asking a peasant to play a peasant, a sailor to play a sailor. In short, it is my usual method. The chemistry is the same. Juliette Binoche is Camille Claudel: the character disappears and dissolves in the person of the actor” (Cineaste, Fall 2013). This statement by Dumont reminds me of King’s use of actors for his actuality drama A Married Couple (1969). There, a couple of actors are documented, filmed on the theme of their married life. Both are thoroughly performative to say the least. Returning to Camille, Dumont’s art cinema tactic of casting non-professional actors, as if their lives resembled the characters portrayed, is therefore maintained. Or so he had hoped.

But Binoche’s acting is far too professional. Her outbursts in tears at a production about Don Juan and her long speech against Rodin were so perfectly executed that the dynamic or authentic appeal of the non-professionals in previous Dumont films was lost. Yes, a strange criticism, but from the art cinema I’ve come to expect a certain authenticity through performance/inauthenticity (rather than an accurate portrayal of emotion through acting.) Binoche is a trained star and will remain as such.

She will be a star even as she gets older. I asked myself as she nakedly dipped into a bath: Is this really the Binoche I’ve seen in films past? Her very brief nudity at the beginning of Camille was a shock, and now I see that it was a shock that should have been expected. Binoche’s nudity was nevertheless as unannounced as Julie Delpy’s in Before Midnight (2013) and the extreme case of Emmanuelle Riva’s aged body in Amour (2012). In each of these films an aging star reveals herself to audiences, as if to challenge past audiences’ desire for the more youthful actress.

The main issue with Camille was its narrative, or lack thereof. The historical year of Claudel’s life, 1915, was to correspond to Binoche’s age. Thus a story is already secondary to the portrayal. But without some narrative component to frame Camille, the film turns into a kind of whodunit. Why is she instituted, what is her psychological issue? Christopher Sharrett sees the film as a blow against the men who treated Claudel unfairly; however, this reveals itself in one way only, i.e., in Binoche’s sorrowful speech to the doctor about Rodin. Yes, she was perhaps wronged by Rodin (I know nothing of Claudel and her story), yet the doctor notes this was 20 years ago, therefore brushing aside her complaints as (perhaps) part of her psychological issue. The “destruction of women by men” (Sharrett, Cineaste, Fall 2013) is nowhere apparent, clear, or represented. We would be much better with a Catherine Breillat film, or for the more Hollywood-keen spectators, Woody Allen’s fantastic feature Blue Jasmine (2013).

Camille appears instead as neither spiritual or transcendentalist, as with characters in Dumont’s prior films, nor do we have here a satire or mockery of Christianity and its believers as in Seidl’s successful Paradise: Faith (2012). Hadewijch and Hors Satan are serious about its content, although without a specific message; these two films were able to investigate the relationship between religiosity and art film aesthetics – there was an honesty about the generic conventions of the art film genre, a sticking to its conventions then pushing their limits in stylistically interesting, and psychologically complex ways for the spectator.

Sharrett suggests there is always “something else” going on in a Dumont picture. This is what I meant by the deeper meaning of art cinema – art cinema (sometimes dis)honestly asks spectators to unravel or deconstruct the images and sounds, associating those hidden meanings with the intention or message of the auteur. This is the generic convention of art cinema and how spectators have critically received it, i.e., when they see something positive or productive in a film or oeuvre of course. (I do not touch upon the boredom, pretentiousness, or spiritually incomprehensibility some spectators would see in art cinema.) With Camille I can’t find what this something else is, despite Sharrett’s claim about the destruction of women by men. The film lacked substance, which is true for most of Dumont’s features; in his previous attempts to produce (bodily) sensations in the spectator, and not making narrative or psychological sense, his prior output maintained a beauty that was unique to art film genre. Camille is ultimately an unsuccessful film in Dumont’s oeuvre, devoid of story, content, spirituality, and style. Everything in this film is simply dull – Dumont parodying a Dumont film. Too much nothing, not enough sensation, and definitely no sense.

Paper Presentation at Cine-Excess VII: European Erotic Cinema, MAC, Birmingham, U.K., Hosted by the University of Birmingham and the University of Brighton, November 15-17, 2013

The unnamed man and unnamed woman (Amira Casar and Rocco Siffredi) in Anatomy of Hell (2004)

Part 1 here

How to Look at Breillat’s Films

Hard core pornography is thoroughly fictive, which is to say an appearance of what an actual sexual act might look like (thus the concerns and fears that the genre is also a guide to sexuality). I put forward a rather Platonic analogy here. What the painter is to signifying a real object hard core pornography is to real sex – the former is by many degrees separated from the latter.[1] In Breillat’s films there is instead a fictional act that is also a living inscription of sexuality; there is a reality presented onscreen, re-presented to viewers as the truth of something really occurring, which is quite different from a representation of something, i.e., what it could be like or containing an objective correlate outside of the film. André Bazin saw in photography the tracing or mummification of things as such, and furthermore, this mummification in cinema is not the static image but of duration and place. It is not a direct presentation, but the really existing thing is presented, set before us, as a truth we must accept. With Bazin’s now naïve view I nevertheless maintain that the sex in Breillat’s films is fictionally re-presented, not as the image or imaginary of sexuality, but the truth and reality of sex itself as Breillat defines it, an experience of watching something real – or, if we like, Breillat gives us valid concepts and ideas through images and sounds. Arguably this is part of the formal and narrative techniques employed as noted above.

Her films cannot therefore be strictly part of an identifiable genre as the narrative which propels characters into sex and sexuality would be a representative or reproduction not only of an objective correlate outside the film – real sex between real bodies – but of what is deemed typical for its generic category: awkward and comedic, arousing yet fake, brutal and horrific, sensual and emotional. As it stands the indifferent or shocking sex scenes have no home in pornography, melodrama, or horror.[2] Thus my deployment of non-pornography.

To tease out what this means for the spectator, and how Breillat wills us into an active engagement with her work, we can think of Christian Metz and Laura Mulvey on the look. Their theories of spectatorship Breillat seems keenly aware of only to make us aware of the power cinema has to produce its opposite. Metz and Mulvey suggest spectators identify with the camera and/or with character as extension of themselves, their perception (Metz [1975] 2009; Mulvey 2009). Neither angle is sufficient to account for the actual experience however. The camera itself does not lead us to the truth of the sexual situation but to the truth of sexual relations – there is neither maximum visibility, nor a clear-cut identification with the body of Rocco Siffredi in Romance for instance, whose presence next to Caroline Ducey is nearly absent as the camera focuses instead on the actress’s face, and the sounds are of voiceover rather than the sex act. Efforts are made on Breillat’s part to not “reproduce as accurately as possible the so-called natural conditions of human perception” (Mulvey 2009: 717), e.g., a look which (re)situates itself to get the best point of view. What I do not have difficulty with, as Metz argues, is encountering myself, not in the film (producing ego ideals through the star system [Mulvey 2009: 714]) or as the all-perceiving subject – for Breillat does not give us such freedom – but as body and social body. Unlike the mirror, Metz writes, the cinema does not return (an image of) our body (2009: 697), but I briefly hint here, in two ways, the inaccuracy of the statement.

Conscious memory provides spectators the source for finding themselves in and with the characters and events onscreen, which is to say identification that fosters the production of thought and ideas. John Phillips sees (2001: 133) this in Romance, Marie’s voiceover lending men and women alike a sense of identification through psychological interiority, and Martin Barker’s audience research on Fat Girl drives this point home (2011: 113, 114). Women find themselves in the victimized Elena and, against Breillat’s claim that men cannot identify with the male characters, respondents successfully identified Fernando’s seduction and coercion tactics in their own seductions. The man is not ideal; he is a type we recognize.

This identification is possible not because, as Bazin simply claimed, reality is exhibited as such through the passive lens of the camera. It is more accurate to say with Stanley Cavell (1979: 26) that we see neither humans nor imaginary signifiers onscreen but “human somethings.”[3] We see a thing that is both there – we know it is a real person – but also absent – he is not there in our presence. In our knowledge that there exists a real person who becomes a star for the camera, we watch his performance of a role through “his physical and temperamental endowment,” i.e., his realness. He is therefore not the character authored by the screen or story-writer; the star is the kind of character “real people are: a type” (Cavell 1979: 29; cf. 36-37). These somethings onscreen are human precisely because we know ourselves and others as a certain type. I can speculate that the same identification experienced in Romance and Fat Girl holds true for Anatomy of Hell’s male viewers, as Asbjørn Grønstad puts it (2006: 166) about the unnamed man in the film, men abhor “the truths of the female body.” In other words, the unnamed man is of a certain type – the intellectual misogynist. But Breillat counters Mulvey’s claims then as the male protagonist, with whom we would identify as ideal ego, does not have the kind of freedom of the stage exhibited in other narrative features; the unnamed woman is in control of his movements, his look, his sex. In this way he does not become a “screen surrogate” for the male spectator’s “ideal ego” (Mulvey 2009: 716). In Romance and Anatomy Siffredi is not “more perfect, more complete, more powerful” than the man in the audience because, in the former, the actor/character is barely present onscreen (in frame, through dialogue, or narrative importance), and neither does he appear omnipotent in either feature as his sexuality, strength, and “manliness” is questionable at best.

We can further distance ourselves from the look of Metz’s voyeur if we return to Breillat’s female characters who exhibit heightened indifference, passiveness, and lack of enthusiasm. Willemen ([1980] 2006: 50-51, 54) and Slavoj Žižek (1991: 110-111, 180n6) note the power of the fourth look in porn, the seductive look back at the spectator by the performer, which both situates the performer onscreen as “to-be-looked-at” and throws the experience of film off-kilter as the absent performer seems to be made aware of the spectator who, in seeing the fourth look, now experiences the “to-be-looked-at-ness” himself. But the actresses and characters in Breillat’s films do not make us aware of their absent presence by the fourth look; they are also not looked-at by other characters nor there for spectators’ scopophilia or narcissistic ego (Mulvey 2009: 714, 721). No one part of the body is emphasized in Romance, Phillips argues (2001: 135), and efforts are made in Fat Girl to conceal rather than reveal both Elena’s and Anaïs’s bodies (cf. Mulvey 2009: 716).

Against this to-be-looked-at-ness further, Phillips notes (2001: 134) Marie is a “searcher” in that she “looks for” men in the narrative. Similarly Elena and Anaïs in Fat Girl are searching for their seducers, and in the two very different forms of rape that take place in the film, Breillat may force us to look away from the screen rather than receive pleasure from it. We see how Breillat again opposes the kind of gaze posited by Mulvey (2009: 715, italics mine), namely, the woman is there onscreen “to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation.” The women of her films push ahead the drama and do not remain static for us to contemplate. Adrienne Angelo has suggested (2010: 51) of Anatomy of Hell additionally that the look as producer of knowledge is halted by the impossible to “reciprocate gaze” of the unnamed man on the one hand, and on the other, the impossibility of him fully seeing the woman where she is “unwatchable.” Thus the thesis of Anatomy is evinced by a series of looks: in order to feel adequate, whole, or whatever interpretation we want to provide, the woman asks the strange man to watch her where she is unwatchable (or “unlookable” as translated by Paul Buck and Catherine Petit [Breillat 2008: 29]), i.e., a gaze without patriarchal oppression, ultimately a request impossible to fulfill. As in most of Breillat’s films this leads us to an aporia.

Provided these examples, I maintain that the spectator Metz posits is affirmed by Breillat to present its opposite. Mulvey succinctly summarizes the political aim of her essay (2009: 721), “It is the place of the look that defines cinema, the possibility of varying it and exposing it…. It is… cinematic codes and their relationship to formative external structures that must be broken down before mainstream film and the pleasure it provides can be challenged.” Cinema has the power to present a spectacle to be sure (Mulvey 2009: 721), but it can also present ideas; bodies and narrative can be shot and organized to gather a truth.

What takes precedence in frame is up to the director however: “An image exists only when you give it meaning, and that meaning depends on your vision, the way you look at things…. Cinema never films reality, it films only the director’s thoughts, the director’s vision, his/her way of looking at things.” The way Breillat materializes sexual images is without representation, but a re-presentation of the body, even if it is a powerful and intentional illusion, evinced by the aforementioned films and most poignantly in the preface and relevant scenes of Anatomy of Hell.[4] The re-presentation then, in Grønstad’s viewing of this 2004 film (2006: 166), is confronting the real and abject body with the “stock complacencies” of sexual images. Grønstad’s claim clearly has to do with the collecting of images, some of which are pleasing to the senses, and replacing commonplace pornography with Breillat’s which is, to say the least, unpleasant.

Breillat therefore takes an immense risk. Ultimately the subversive quality of art is on the shoulders of the spectator. If some assemble the sex scenes in Romance, Fat Girl, and Anatomy of Hell into a collage of nudity, or forcefully demand to know whether the actress “really had sex,” we may have the experience of eroticism and/or arousal in viewing the actresses’ bodies. Other spectators, e.g., critics who declare a film teen-porn or see features as a work to showcase underage actresses naked, miss the mark additionally. If we collect the images and sounds as Breillat had intended, her conveyance of a certain meaning as in the quote cited above, through our “attention and will” (Bazin [1950-55] 2005: 35-36) the images and sounds begin to matter to us on their own merits and not through their proximity to habituated viewing positions and definable genres. It is the task of the spectator-critic to remember, to re-collect, and assemble the images of a film to thereby “account for the frames of the film being what they are, in the order that they are in” (Cavell, 2005: 6). A pornography can therefore be non-pornographic if, first, it has truth as its aim – social, cultural, psychoanalytic, depending on what matters to us – and second, insofar as spectator, critic, or theorist is touched by the images and assembles them not into a sequence likened to traditionally pornographic features in which arousal is a given, but into a series whereby thoughts and ideas provoke us to make a real change – in Breillat’s films, to counter the oppressive nature of heterosexual romance.


Andrew, D. (1984). Concepts in Film Theory. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.

Angelo, A. (2010). Sexual Cartographies: Mapping Subjectivity in the Cinema of Catherine Breillat. (R. Rushton, & L. Russell-Watts, Eds.) Journal for Cultural Research , 14 (1), 43-55.

Badiou, A. (2012). Plato’s Republic: A Dialogue in 16 Chapters. (S. Spitzer, Trans.) New York: Columbia University Press.

Barker, M. (2011). Watching Rape, Enjoying Watching Rape…: How Does a Study of Audience Cha(lle)nge Mainstream Film Studies Approaches? In T. C. Horeck, & T. Kendall (Eds.), The New Extremism in Cinema: From France to Europe (pp. 105-115). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Bazin, A. (2005). What is Cinema? Volume 1. (H. Gray, Ed., & H. Gray, Trans.) Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

Best, V., & Crowley, M. (2007). The New Pornographies: Explicit Sex in Recent French Fiction and Film. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press.

Braudy, L. (2009). From The World in a Frame. In L. Braudy, & M. Cohen (Eds.), Film Theory & Criticism: Introductory Readings (Seventh ed., pp. 535-551). New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Breillat, C. (Director). (2004). Anatomy of Hell [Motion Picture].

Breillat, C. (Director). (2004). Brief Crossing [Motion Picture]. Wellsping Media, Inc.

Breillat, C. (Director). (2011). Fat Girl [Motion Picture]. The Criterion Collection.

Breillat, C. (2008). Pornocracy. (P. Buck, & C. Petit, Eds.) Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

Breillat, C. (Director). (1999). Romance [Motion Picture].

Brinkema, E. (2006a). A Title Does Not Ask, but Demands That You Make a Choice: On the Otherwise Films of Bruce LaBruce. Criticsm , 48 (1), 95-126.

Brinkema, E. (2006b). Celluloid is Sticky: Sex, Death, Materiality, Metaphysics (in Some Films by Catherine Breillat). Women: a cultural review , 17 (2), 147-170.

Cavell, S. (2005). Cavell on Film. (W. Rothman, Ed.) Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Cavell, S. (1979). The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film (Enlarged ed.). Cambridge & London: Harvard University Press.

Ellis, J. (2006). On Pornography. In P. Lehman (Ed.), Pornography: Film and Culture (pp. 25-47). New Brunswick, NJ & London: Rutgers University Press.

Grønstad, A. (2006). Abject desire: Anatomie de l’enfer and the unwatchable. Studies in French Cinema , 6 (3), 161-169.

Hess, J. (1977). Genre Film and the Status Quo. In B. K. Grant (Ed.), Film Genre: Theory and Criticism. Metchuen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press.

Leigh, J. (Director). (2011). Sleeping Beauty [Motion Picture].

Metz, C. (2009). From The Imaginary Signifier. In L. Braudy, & M. Cohen (Eds.), Film Theory & Criticism: Introductory Readings (pp. 694-710). New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mulvey, L. (2009). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In L. Braudy, & M. Cohen (Eds.), Film Theory & Criticism: Introductory Readings (pp. 711-722). New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Neale, S. (1980). Genre. London: BFI.

Panagia, D. (2012). Why Film Matters to Political Theory. Contemporary Political Theory , 1-24.

Pasolini, P. P. (Director). (1975). Saló [Motion Picture]. EuroCult.

Philips, J. (2001). Catherine Breillat’s Romance: Hard Core and the Female Gaze. Studies in French Cinema , 1 (3), 133-140.

Schatz, T. (2009). From Hollywood Genres. In L. Braudy, & M. Cohen (Eds.), Film Theory & Criticism: Introductory Readings (Seventh ed., pp. 564-575). New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wheatley, C. (2009). Michael Haneke’s Cinema: The Ethic of the Image. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Willemen, P. (2006). Letter to John. In P. Lehman (Ed.), Pornography: Film and Culture (pp. 48-59). New Brunswick, NJ & London: Rutgers University Press.

Williams, L. (1986). Film Body: An Implantation of Perversions. In P. Rosen (Ed.), Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader (pp. 507-534). New York: Columbia University Press.

Williams, L. (1999). Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible”. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Williams, L. (2008). Screening Sex. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Žižek, S. (1991). Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Cambridge & London: The MIT Press.

[1]     Cf. Badiou 2012: 316-322 for Socrates on representation and imitation.

[2]     Of course Breillat may be easily slotted into the genre of art film, as Andrew 1984: 120-121, 125-126 argues is a category onto itself. But this presupposes something as commonplace as the art film. It is not surprising that Andrew must situate the art film in the university, i.e., its audiences must have an expectation of what it is prior to its screening. But if art film constitutes a whole feature, I am here breaking down that experience of the feature into difficult to identify parts. This is why the range of criticism on Breillat’s films is so diverse: from horrifying, to pornographic, to dramatic, to boring.

[3]     Panagia 2012: 14-15 develops his own ontology of film through this idea of Cavell’s human somethings. He defines Cavell’s term as follows: “…when we look at an actor projected on a screen we behold an apparition that appears animated like a human, but is not alive. The camera transcribes a human form in such a way that we acknowledge something human about the appearance. And yet what we regard is precisely not human; rather, it is the impression of photogenic lumens emitted by a body-object, captured by a lens, impressed upon celluloid, exposed in a lab and projected on a screen. In short, film projects the sensation of a human something.”

[4]     Preface to Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell: “Cinema is an illusion and is based not on ‘true stories’ or some kind of happening, but on the reality of the work. In this film, in the most intimate shots of the girl’s body, she is played by a body-double. In these scenes, there is no question of seeing the actress, but rather a fictional construct of the girl’s body.”

Paper Presentation at Cine-Excess VII: European Erotic Cinema, MAC, Birmingham, U.K., Hosted by the University of Birmingham and the University of Brighton, November 15-17, 2013


In Catherine Breillat’s films the stark and often obtrusive engagements with sexuality, and its violent outcomes, have brought censorship and pornography debates to the work but most debates and studies have insufficiently accounted for the director’s proximity to or distance from body genres.[1] The codes of horror, pornography, and melodrama are appropriated by Breillat and twisted to produce a particular message, or meaning, or truth: the shame of feminine sexuality under patriarchy. Breillat, however, is not a genre-filmmaker, particularly if genres are closed-off places with “pre-existing motifs, plot turns, actors, and situations… [that are] a respite from the more confusing and complicating worlds outside” (Braudy [1976] 2009: 540), as well as containing neat and tidy resolutions (Schatz [1991] 2009: 573-574), or in the case of porn sticky and messy ones.[2] My claim is that the so-called predictability of genre works as a marketing strategy and as a lens to critique individual films, trends, or movements,[3] but this stability of genre is untrue for much of filmmaking and for spectators’ experience of non-genre specific films. Breillat’s films play with the predictability of genre. Her films place a demand on the spectator to collect the images, from which, through their active participation in organizing those images, establishes a finished product that matters for them. By commanding this activity in the spectator Breillat’s message is transmitted.

My focus today is on the genre of pornography. First I assess Breillat’s distance from erotic art and pornography traditionally associated with and for a male viewer, which is to say she overturns the norms of the genre and pre-established film experience. Second, I lay out the problem of the imaginary (identification) and its relation to the real/Real in Breillat’s films. Since Breillat places the burden of sense-making and organization on spectators however, she risks losing her message, yet, her message can be transmitted only by taking this risk. Truth is produced by making an obscenity, not as in a moral outrage, but disrupting the practices of genre filmmaking and habituated patterns of spectatorship.

To think through Breillat’s films I must make a distinction between pornography and erotic art firstly, then follow with definitions of two versions of pornography, call them classical or common sense, and non-pornographic.

Erotic art, defined as either soft-core or the display of female nudes, has been traditionally associated with an embodied male viewer. John Berger (Williams [1989] 1999: 59-60, quoting Berger), writing on the history of European painting of nudes, locates “the real subject” of the canvas outside the object of art: “He is the spectator in front of the picture and he is presumed to be a man…. It is for him that the figures have assumed their nudity.” Breillat echoes this position on erotic art: the erotic “is a mysterious woman in suspenders, spreading her legs, turning men on” (Crowley 2007: 59, quoting Breillat, trans. Crowley). I suggest that eroticism contains an idea of a composed viewer’s aesthetic appreciation additionally, a kind of admiration or awe at the sight of the nude woman. We can find this in extreme cinema from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Saló (1975) to Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty (2011). With Solicitor General Rankin, who said in 1957 hard core pornography only has one ‘idea’, namely, “there is pleasure in sexual gratification” (Williams 1999: 88, quoting Rankin), similarly erotic art has one idea – the pleasures of viewing the unclothed woman.

Cinematic pornography is something different from erotic art, although, as Justice Potter Stewart would have it, we all know it when we see it. Linda Williams’s rudimentary definition of pornography, in her inaugural study Hard Core (1989/1999), is what most of us would expect to find in a pornographic film: “the visual (and sometimes aural) representation of living, moving bodies engaged in explicit, usually unfaked, sexual acts with a primary intent of arousing viewers” (Williams 1999: 30). Williams also writes that in pornography, from Eadweard Muybridge to Breillat ([1981] 1986; 2008), there is an attempt to find the truth of female bodies, pleasures, and sex generally – a kind of science through plot, maximum visibility,[4] and the money shot. Pornography then has at least two functions as opposed to erotic art’s singular aim: to really move the viewer, arousal or otherwise as I will argue, and to develop and posit some truth.

Breillat falls in with pornography defined by Williams as a body genre, a film capable of producing intense sensations in the spectator (1999: 284-285).[5] The sensation Breillat is able to produce is displeasure rather than pleasure and it is this method of moving spectators which allows her to articulate the truth of women’s shame regarding desire and sexuality. Sexuality as shot and enacted in her films however “is no longer any fun” for the fictional characters (Best & Crowley 2007: 10); encounters are ripe with dissatisfaction, distaste, and misery (Best 2007: 24), and therefore a far departure from the arousing quality of erotic images or porn – my shorthand term for Williams’s commercial and instrumental definition – designed to titillate. “Pornography is ugly,” the director states, “and I prefer ugly” (Crowley 2007: 60, quoting Breillat, trans. Crowley).[6]

In Romance (1999), Marie appears indifferent to performing and receiving oral sex, cries during bondage, and thinks more about sex and the relations between the sexes than enjoying the act. Elena, in Fat Girl (À ma soeur!, 2001), is immobile and in tears while nude; she moans in agony rather than sexual ecstasy when the man conquers her. The woman in Anatomy of Hell (Anatomie de l’enfer, 2004) bleeds from her wrists, menstruates, and is depressive. The sex in Breillat’s films, although resembling the acts we would see in porn, i.e., nude men and women engaging in sexual intercourse, is as dissatisfying for the characters as for viewers. To suggest Breillat is creating a piece of erotic art, like feminists who want eroticism as an opposition to male-centered pornography, would greatly miss the point. “To be honest,” the director mentions, “I don’t think there is such a thing as erotic art. Art compromises you. It’s subversive. So it can’t be erotic” (Crowley 2007: 59, quoting Breillat, trans. Crowley). Given these preliminary analyses and cited interviews, following Eugenie Brinkema, I name the dominant genre at work in Breillat’s oeuvre non-pornographic pornography.

The truth about feminine sexuality and patriarchy finds its strength in Breillat’s pornographic scenes and sequences, initially in the common sense use of the term. But without the rhythm of the sexual numbers and narrative, maximum visibility, the money shot, etc., those components of the genre so well identified by Paul Willemen, Williams, and others, Breillat displaces or puts sex somewhere else, outside of eroticism and sexual arousal, and into thought. She uses long takes, close-ups of faces instead of genitals, no moans or groans except during the male orgasm as a counterpoint to the silence of the woman, and highlights the frequent inactivity of the female character, always immobile and often in tears while the man has his pleasure. Breillat’s female characters are at first glance intentionally passive in the sense described by Laura Mulvey in her famous essay ([1975] 2009), but what is active in the film experience is not the male spectator or his scopophilia – it is his critical engagement with the message of a picture or scene. The director’s tactics work together to show that “the teleology of sex is clearly meant to ‘lead to’ something nonsexual – … contemplation, thought, a gesture of aesthetic or political engagement that is not located solely in the lower enclaves of the body” (Brinkema 2006a: 101). Brinkema suggests the affected spectator is split between her arousal which is present, because of the sexualized bodies onscreen, and the idea conveyed through these bodies (Brinkema 2006a: 101-102).

At the beginning of his chapter Crowley finds that dismissing Breillat as mere pornography reductive (in the anti-pornography or low-brow sense of the term). Brinkema corroborates (2006b: 149) in stating the complexities associated with positioning the director within a tradition of pornography whose products are on the one hand easily verifiable to any consumer of media, and on the other, so frequently impossible to convincingly limit, define, and categorize. In Breillat there is something new produced within a field of pornographic work, what Brinkema calls a non-pornographic body, and Breillat herself has named pornocracy (2008) – etymologically not the writing about prostitutes, but the strength of the prostitute (Angelo 2010: 50). A non-pornographic body is firstly a subject in her conditions or situation, in Breillat’s view, a situation still quite horrible under the visible and invisible forces of patriarchy. Secondly, a body can be non-pornographic when feminine interiority is fully explored, a subjectivity on display and narrated, exemplified most powerfully in Marie’s voiceovers in Romance, Alice’s critical reflections on relations between the sexes in Brief Crossing, and Elena in Fat Girl through the extended use of medium close-ups on her pained face. In this film we do not need voiceovers for Elena’s tears, stillness, and resistance to sexual advances are enough for us to see beneath the skin.

Marie asserts, “Sex is metaphysical,” which is to say outside and beyond what is there presented onscreen, and not for a moment does Breillat cease to remind us in any one of her films. This is also a reminder to be attentive to the manner in which bodies are framed, shots are organized, and acts and events presented, namely, its context, its story, and the plot elements. For Breillat, the concealed truth of woman’s shame under patriarchy is revealed in and through the appropriation of and experimentation with the pornographic genre, which is to say in excess of what is seen onscreen.

Part 2 here

[1]     This paper was originally presented at Cine-Excess VII: The International Conference and Festival on Global Cult Film Traditions, hosted by the University of Birmingham and the University of Brighton, November 16th, 2013, at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham, U.K.

[2]     Thomas Schatz sums up genre films as “essentially [involving] one dimensional characters acting out a predictable story pattern within a familiar setting” (cited in Wheatley 2009: 80). This is also the position Judith Hess and Steve Neale outline and which I take for granted when I discuss the predictability and conventional sense of genre in the following pages. Cf. Hess 1977; Neale 1980: 46-48.

[3]     Andrew 1984: 109-115 explains this point in more detail.

[4]     Williams 2008: 363n96: “Maximum visibility is the term I have used to describe the imperative of all pornography to prove that real sex takes place. It includes the privileging of close-ups of body parts over other shots, the overlighting of otherwise easily obscured genitals and, of course, with the rise of feature-length porno in the early seventies, the money shot…. John Waters has noted that such shots are what make porn look to him like ‘open-heart surgery.’”

[5]     Pornography defined as producing sensation in the spectators seems to be the only universally agreed upon definition. Cf. Ellis [1980] 2006: 29, citing Lord Clark; 30, citing Angela Carter; 32, citing The Williams Report.

[6]     Breillat restated this point in the discussion following my presentation.

Paper Presentation: November 16th, Cine-Excess VII: European Erotic Cinema: Identity, Desire and Disgust, Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham, U.K.

Paper Presentation: December 4th, Symons Seminar Series, Trent University, Peterborough, ON

Pornographic genre codes are appropriated by Breillat and twisted to produce a particular message, meaning, or truth: the shame of feminine sexuality under patriarchy. In this paper I argue she must be pornographic, and explicit, if some element of truth in obscenity is to be recovered. I situate Breillat within a style of cinematic pornography, recuperating the term from otherwise hostile definitions.

I first consider how her pornography is unlike the erotic. Sexual encounters within her films are ripe with dissatisfaction, distaste, and misery and therefore far from the classical definition of viewing erotic art as a composed spectator’s aesthetic appreciation. Secondly, I articulate the difference between Breillat’s films and a pornography designed to titillate a specifically male viewer. True, Breillat falls in with pornography defined by Williams (1991) as a body genre, producing intense sensations in the spectator; pornography, in some manner, should move the viewer, often to a state of arousal or if shared in a theatre amongst friends, in bursts of nervous laughter. Breillat greatly separates herself from hard core in her efforts to move spectators. The sensation Breillat is able to produce in spectators is a cinematic displeasure of both narrative and images. According to Brinkema (2006), Grønstad (2006), and Horeck and Kendall (2011), among others, Breillat transmits her message with this method of provocation by engaging the spectator’s senses, therefore calling the viewer to ethically and immediately respond to the work. She accomplishes this cinematic brilliance – treading a line which is pornographic yet not erotic and causing a sensation in the viewer which is not arousal – by frustrating habituated viewing, challenging the common film-experience of identifying with characters, or symbolically recognizing the genre.

[I wasn't able to formally share these thoughts on the night of the 4th. I provide them here.]


My claim is that there is no better contemporary film which so explicitly deals with the topic of rape culture than Spring Breakers, or at least, for those who despise the feature, Korine’s film gives us the tools to think critically about it. Korine accomplishes this by refusing to critique or give this culture a direct address. Instead of the obvious critique of someone like Catherine Breillat or other directors associated with New French Extremism or New Extremism more broadly, Spring Breakers presents the setting and conditions under which rape culture exists.

The first half of the film, up to the moment Faith (Selena Gomez) goes back home, underscores my point. We have images of the diegetic characters and the extras engaging in common spring break activities. As Francey Russell notes in her review we can find any of these images on the internet: partying, asses shaking, alcohol and drug use, young women exposing their breasts, young men gawking and groping young women, and everyone there, as Faith relates in a voicemail to her grandmother, having the time of their lives. The shot Korine returns to repeatedly, therefore calling our attention to it, is the topless girls beckoning the alcohol phalluses of young men followed by the spraying of liquids over their breasts. With this shot Korine shows us the importance of the beach and party scenes; these individuals appear as faceless extras, the normal crowd already there on spring break – in a sense this is the authenticity or truthfulness of what Korine presents, blurring the division between a documentary picture or series, e.g., Girls Gone Wild, and the story of Faith, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine). The fictional narrative, as the excessive account of an otherwise banal spring break shot through a point-of-view with the same tone and color as the partying extras, therefore depicts a realistic or true account of the events that take occur in St. Petersburg.

In addition to the authenticity this pseudo-documentary footage provides it also highlights the consensual nature of the acts and events. This is reinforced in the scene in which Cotty is intoxicated and a young man pours alcohol over her; he commands her to “Take it like a stripper,” and mentions how he wants “that pussy,” the one that is (perhaps unfortunately) attached to the rest of her. She playfully sings to him, “Never gonna get this pussy,” and exposes her breasts. She eventually consents to kissing and, we should expect, further sexual activity. In both beach/party scenes and in this diegetic scene Korine stresses a completely fabricated or false consent, and a commenter on Russell’s review observes much the same, i.e., Spring Breakers does not contain even the slightest hint of rape or sexual aggression (except briefly between Alien and Faith) and is, against Russell’s argument that the film is about rape culture, simply a testament to a group of consenting youths which we can then read into as similar to real youths on a real spring break. This commentator, whether he agrees with Russell or not, suggests that the film is the truth of students on spring break – is it not much of a leap then to claim it is also the truth of sexual violence?

This ambiguity or lack of clarity is what I find so appealing about New Extreme cinema. With the inclusion of violence and sexuality to a narrative picture the critique is often lost on spectators. For the most part, when sex and violence appears in a Hollywood narrative feature, the director and film crew are complicit in that sex and violence, showing images of sexuality to titillate, arouse, and excite, and scenes of violence to show off their skills at choreography, special effects, or CGI. New Extreme cinema disturbs this habitual response to sex and violence; viewers don’t know whether directors are providing a spectacle, enjoying the filming of sex and violence, or critiquing some aspect of sex and violence in contemporary Western culture. Korine has a history of not saying anything specific about his films and I think this is his brilliance. For Spring Breakers I believe he tries to make a play or make fools of the viewers by stating that his images and sounds are nothing but “candy,” but this I don’t fully accept, or I’ve been giving the director too much credit. I agree with Russell that there is a right way to view this picture, regardless of Korine’s seemingly irresponsible statement that “there’s no right or wrong way of viewing the film.” Russell states, “if someone could watch Spring Breakers and not experience a moment of fighting rage or bleak sadness, I would say they haven’t seen it rightly.” The question is what we should be getting out of these first 45 minutes, and later the irreal second half of the film, which I’ll leave open for discussion.


Now I can provide a provisional answer to some of the film’s more confusing elements and how it more definitely relates to rape culture. Quoting from Russell’s review, we have in Spring Breakers the beginning of an analysis of rape culture, irreducible to any one of these singular items: “gun culture, consumerism, wealth inequality, college culture, American Christianity, racism, our global obsession with underdressed young girls,… and Britney Spears.” Yes, Korine gives us Spears twice in the film. A young girl dressed in an outfit which reveals much of her skin, telling the viewers of her music video, Hit me baby one more time. But the public discussion about clothing, namely the consensus that a woman’s attire does not give a man the right to sex, does absolutely nothing to answer the question of where this right came from and why a man is still able to pose the question today of whether or not to assault a woman who is dressed in such a manner that causes him sexual excitement and the will for violence.

All these factors, and likely much more, contribute to the posing of the question to rape or to not rape. It is not enough to claim the solitary male who stumbles upon an unconscious woman will rape if he hasn’t been sufficiently reminded not to – and this is why I find the “Don’t be that guy” advertisements ineffective. Where is this man, what music has been playing, has he been drinking, is there binge drinking, what has he been drinking, which drinks are more likely to confront a man with the question of rape, are there friends nearby to make suggestions for sexual assault, are they drinking, what have they been drinking, and so on. It is naïve – but nevertheless satisfying for the legal system – to do an analysis of an occurrence of rape based on the responsibility or irresponsibility of an individual.[1] It is a simple answer for conservatives to go the responsibility route. The conservative position – opposed to a radical or revolutionary position, one which would actually want to change the structures of oppression, etc. – would believe that through an individual’s will and intelligence he is author of his own destiny, so to speak. Complete freedom of choice is the philosophical position conservatives begin from. This would be what the reminder ads reinforce: from nothing, or out of nothing, you can decide not to rape. There is no empty and valueless space or process of decision-making however – each space brings its own history and challenges, or in different words, before we can talk about some essence in Man, i.e., the desire to rape which needs to be quelled by posters, commercials, and even scholarly articles, we must begin anew with the problem of rape and ask in each of the instances in which it occurs or we think it likely to occur: how does this environment facilitate the posing of the question of whether one should rape or not. In other words, study the environment and the objects in it; from there we can perhaps determine why individuals still pose the (absurd) question of whether it is permissible to be a rapist or not.

This is what Spring Breakers shows to us. We are all complicit in this culture of violence against women when we are participants and consumers of spaces, objects, and things which contribute to it.

[1] Of course I hold rapists responsible for their actions. My discussion here is hopefully providing provisional hints towards an analysis of the phenomenon, not individual cases after the fact.


The Lucas Clinic sells manufactured diseases and infections derived from the real life diseases and infections of celebrities. Infections are plucked direct from the celebrity then modified to be less dangerous and non-contagious, and finally packaged for the consumer; it is taking an interest in a famous person’s life to the next extreme, creating a fabricated bond, through disease and decay, from celebrity to average person. An employee of the clinic, Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), is also a consumer of celeb diseases and is perhaps even more infatuated with stars than clients of the clinic. In Antiviral, Syd is assigned to extract the blood of Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), the most famous of the famous, who has recently contracted a mysterious disease. The employee does the extraction, but before the blood can be rendered non-life threatening, he injects himself with a bit of Geist. The celebrity later dies, the world mourns, and Syd must find himself a cure for this incurable disease.

Through a series of encounters and exchanges we learn Lucas Clinic’s competitor purposely infected Geist and they must keep Syd quiet so her life-ending disease can be sold to consumers, at great profit of course. Syd, in exchange for a cure, provides an even more profitable solution for the company – a sort of stem cell Geist that lives forever, can be purposely infected, then that disease extracted and sold to the public. Syd’s world returns to normal and the film ends in a scene where he re-injects himself with a new Geist virus.

In sci-fi cinema three broad storytelling options are possible (among others certainly). The first is the obvious alien story with its myriad manifestations. The second is creating a new world out of pre-existing technology – the real world’s technological advances inspire to create another. For example, technological possibilities in the form of space travel, androids and other artificial intelligence, gaming and virtual reality, etc. The third is what I’ll call cultural sci-fi, where an existing cultural problem or fascination is magnified, exaggerated, and intensified. Antiviral falls into the third category. Celebrity culture, for the 20+ years I can remember in South-Central Ontario, has always been an object of curiosity and/or obsession. We like to know what famous people are up to. Antiviral’s turn in cultural commodities is not far from the world outside the film whereby consumption of news and products brings an illusory closeness and intimacy between celeb and consumer. However, the celebrity phenomenon reached its peak with the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and numerous films and television programs profited from the homicide. And various scandals pop up here and there, usually with female celebrities, and the public takes an interest in them to varying degrees (myself, not so much). So why in 2012 does Brandon Cronenberg feel the need to remind us of our obsession? What possible critique or message do we get from Antiviral? I’m not sure. It resonates with his father’s Videodrome (1983), but lacks the urgency of that film’s critique. That being said, Antiviral does make for a good bit of entertainment.

The title shot plays a bit with Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist (2009), beginning with the same scrawl on the screen and no credits. The employee we are introduced to is probably already infected by various celebrity infections and diseases by the time we find him. His scrawny form, pale look, and long hair make him the most obvious candidate for the role. His ability to play a deteriorating character, decaying slowly as the virus takes hold of him, is simply outstanding. He has no heroic qualities, spending most of the film held up by a cane, and even his moment of grace in which he bargains for a cure, has every bit of ill-intention and self-indulgence that we would see in any of cinema’s most villainous. He wears a black suit and white shirt throughout, in various states of disarray and uncleanliness; sweat and blood stain his costume, face, hands, and in his only act of physical strength – a poorly planned escape from the competitor’s clinic who abducted him to document and film his last days of life for consumers so they can see how Geist similarly perished – his blood and grime streaks the walls and attaches itself to whomever he comes in contact with.

On this point then, the utter sterility of the film, the editors of Cinephile (8.2) are correct to note its power. As one would expect of a clinic, the setting is bare and white – a sterility matching Catherine Breillat’s Romance (1999) where the blasé couple’s apartment aligns with their sex life. When Syd spits up his blood and plasters the walls in red, the white acts as a canvas for bodily fluid. But making similar the interest in celebrity and the clinics where products are purchased, Syd’s home is equally as bland in color. The blurring of work, home, and leisure stand out and echo the late capitalist lived experience.

At times the non-diegetic drone adds to the decrepitude of Syd’s diseased body trying to make its way in the world; at others silence would have been more preferable. Some of the camerawork could have been improved, the sometimes shaky camera getting a little overused these days; but much of the framing of the static shots – again highlighting sterile environments – was eye-pleasing. Transitions between sequences, especially in the second half of the film, were unintentionally disorienting, but this is more a fault of the storytelling than editing. A sense of space and place is slightly confused.

The editors of Cinephile reviewed the film in a recent issue on New Extreme Cinema. I had expected, from the trailer additionally, the film would explore the body in a way that perhaps Marina de Van’s In My Skin (2002) had, or play with some of the other features of the cinema du corps. Antiviral did have some of the abjection of In My Skin, but does not quite reach the quality and disgust inherent to de Van’s feature. Geist and Syd’s bloody lips and spluttering blood did prove to be somewhat disgusting nevertheless. Without the sex and/or sexual violence (not a necessary component surely), and Cronenberg’s film containing a singular act of violence (stabbing a man in the neck with a pen) that is not climactic but a piece of the plot to push ahead the narrative (New Extreme cinema ends with a climactic and surprising violence as a result of the events preceding it), Antiviral does not, in my opinion, earn a place in the recent tendency for cinematic flesh and blood. And if it does, New Extreme cinema has become a useless term, given a breadth that makes it impossible to work with.

Paper presentation at Western University’s (Re)Activating Objects, March 1 – March 3, 2013


In this paper I argue that actors and actresses’ performances are key objects of analysis in addressing the ethical challenges of New Extreme films. Breillat’s Fat Girl (2001) and its fictionalized making-of, Sex is Comedy (2002), incites an ethical engagement not merely in the sense of textual analysis, but requires a deeper investigation inherent to the filmmaking process. The reflexivity of the paired films – the latter as a staged re-enactment of the sex scene of the former, re-performed by lead actress Mesquida – motivates the development of a theory of performance following Linda Williams’ reflections, and in so doing shifting emphasis from director-auteur to the equally important actor-auteur, as Dyer argued decades ago.

Breillat places high demand on her actors to perform (physicality) as well as act (deliver dialogue), evinced by Mesquida’s reluctance and difficultly in shooting the twenty minute scene in which her character, Elena, is coerced out of her virginity in Fat Girl, and its alternate but similar re-performance in Sex is Comedy. The unnamed character-actress of the latter bursts into sobs when director Jeanne finally utters “cut” after the long take. Her tears are powerful within the narrative to be sure, but reflexivity is used here as a method of rethinking Mesquida’s earlier role in addition to films of the New Extremism generally, as Breillat is an oft-cited name for the recent cinematic tendency for flesh and blood: it poses the question of whether onscreen acts of physical and emotional violence manifest in the bodies of actors and actresses off-screen, and further, to what aesthetic and ethical end. In making the parallel between the films (hitherto unaccomplished by scholars) I sidestep theorists who label New Extremism aesthetic pornography or transgressive cinema, and instead refocus the theorizing of these films to issues of performance, the actor-auteur, and ethics.

Trent Film Society Presents Bruno Dumont's Flanders

Trent Film Society Presents a Series of New Extreme Films

Any study of New Extremism must begin with James Quandt’s seminal and disparaging review of Bruno Dumont’s Twentynine Palms (2003).1 Impressed by his first two features, La vie de Jésus (1997) and Humanité (1999), Quandt was worried that Dumont’s latest proved he had “succumbed to the growing vogue for shock tactics in French cinema over the past decade.” His article then traces this in vogue filmmaking.

Published in Artforum February 2004, “Flesh and Blood: Sex and Violence in Recent French Cinema”, writes Quandt in 2011 (210), “took on a life never intended, with often uncomfortable results.” Positively, the coining of “New French Extremity” (Quandt 2004) in this piece demarcated a period of filmmaking in France from about 1997 to 2004 (and since expanded to 2009 when Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void finished off the trend for good [Quandt 2011: 212]), and scholars were able to position disparate and stylistically diverse films into an identifiable category based not particularly in a new form, but upon a film’s insistence on graphic sexuality and violence. Negatively Quandt’s article was highly misconstrued and unfortunately led to pigeonholing artists into this newly defined trend (2011: 210). A single film viewed and written upon as an Extreme production does not warrant a director’s oeuvre and subsequent features a labelling as such, Quandt stresses. Catherine Breillat, François Ozon, and Claire Denis for instance are now categorically “Extreme” despite their recent movement away from the cinematic tendencies of earlier works.

Critics and theorists have made sure to separate New Extremity from genre study, defining it as a style, or as a particular movement (Quandt 2004; Grønstad 2006: 163; Beugnet 2007: 25). In fact the director’s associated “often deconstruct a range of generic tropes rather than constituting one collectively” (Horeck and Kendall 2011: 5), and further, have a near total “disregard for genre boundaries” (Horeck and Kendall 2011: 3, quoting Beugnet). New Extremity is used then as a trend or tendency that is not exclusive to representations of an ideal generic form, nor for that matter, restricting itself to France but emerging internationally (Grønstad 2006: 163). The tendency can be approximated nevertheless, and such is Quandt’s (2004) exaggerative description, deserving to be quoted in full:

Bava as much as Bataille, Salò no less than Sade seem the determinants of a cinema suddenly determined to break every taboo, to wade in rivers of viscera and spumes of sperm, to fill each frame with flesh, nubile or gnarled, and subject it to all manner of penetration, mutilation, and defilement. Images and subjects once the provenance of splatter films, exploitation flicks, and porn – gang rapes, bashings and slashings and blindings [?], hard-ons and vulvas, cannibalism, sadomasochism and incest, fucking and fisting, sluices of cum and gore – proliferate in the high-art environs of a national cinema whose provocations have historically been formal, political, or philosophical… or, at their most immoderate…, at least assimilable as emanations of an artistic movement….

From such a statement one would think the filmic content would be comprised of grotesque images, plot developments, and stories. New French Extremity, as I and others come to define it, seems inappropriate and “torture porn” (Lockwood 2009), or “the new brutality film” (Gormley 2005), seem the more apt terms for Quandt’s viewing.2 True, Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day (2001) and Marina de Van’s In My Skin (Dans ma peau, 2002) have their fair share of gore to go alongside a story of cannibalistic vampire leads in the former, and repetitive, bloody auto-cannibalism in the latter, but both neglect the other characteristics listed above. Catherine Breillat’s Romance (1999) has several scenes of fucking and sadomasochism, again lacking the rest. Dumont’s Twentynine Palms penultimate scene features a male-on-male gang rape followed by a brutal stabbing. Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh-Thi’s low-budget art-porn Baise Moi (2000) has plenty of satirical if not humorous violence and more than a few unsimulated sex scenes. Baise Moi and Jacques Nolot’s Porn Theatre (2002) are the only two that provide viewers the sperm and cum Quandt thought was repeated ad nauseam in these films.3 I have yet to see fisting in a New Extreme film and incest has only appeared in Yorgos Lanthimos’ recent picture Dogtooth (2009). Collectively the New French Extreme accomplishes all that Quandt perceives; individually they are diverse, eclectic, and demand investigation on their own cinematic terms.

Where the fiction of the Marquis de Sade and Georges Bataille, Quandt’s literary parallels, center around repeated and progressively more disturbing violent sexual acts as the story unfolds, New Extreme films contain many dramatic elements that make them distinct from the “shock tactics” (Quandt 2004) of those two authors. Images are not about shocking the viewer, despite their insistent “shocking acts”, including “explicit and brutal sex”, rape, and murder (Horeck and Kendall 2011: 1; Vincendeau 2007: 205; Beugnet 2007: 36). The casting aside of Sade and Bataille,4 or in more cinematic terms a Hollywood brutality film – a feast for the eyes in terms of spectacular, choreographed violence – a New Extreme film alters the conventional or generic presentation of shock images. Opposed to the sensational, Martine Beugnet (2007: 16) suggests Extreme films exhibit a “cinema of sensation”, which is to say a film experience of more than sight, an experience with multiple senses; the sensorial takes precedence over the visually sensational, achieving an intellectual engagement on a visceral or embodied level (Beugnet 2007: 8, 59; Williams 2009: 188; Palmer 2011: 59; Horeck & Kendall 2011: 7-9).5 In other words, the pleasure of onscreen violence, of a director like Quentin Tarantino, is far removed from the style and aim of the New Extreme, preferring instead the looming intensity of what has recently been dubbed “slow cinema” (Archer 2011; Flanagan 2008; James 2010): the long take and static or “objective” camera, to name two basic characteristics.

Offering an alternative to the fast-paced editing of recent multiplex features, the New Extreme cinema gifts viewers with the opportunity to contemplate and engage the image, make it available for us to ask, as Gilles Deleuze writes, “What is there to see in the image?” and not “What are we going to see in the next image?” (1989: 261). We may think of André Bazin’s praise of Orson Welles’ depth of focus, a depiction of multiple folds of meaning dancing across the two-dimensional layers of four (or five)-dimensional space; a miracle of cinematography merely from holding the camera still and focusing on both foreground and distant background (Bazin 2005: 31ff). Dispensing with psychological motivation altogether, Lisa Coulthard (2011: 185), writing about Michael Haneke’s films but perhaps describing much of the New Extreme,6 camera-techniques developed and deployed by Welles are taken up anew to reveal characters/actors as they are. Director Carlos Reygadas, among many other in his trade, utilizes the non-professional actor so that he or she is simply being there in the world and providing a spectatorial sensation of the respective film-image, a sort of fictional and narrativized at-homeness of the person onscreen. There is also a corresponding anxiety when stripped of that home and non-professionals add a sense of realism to the fumbling, ambiguous sexual encounters necessary to the plots of many New Extreme films: these actors have no training and are thus forced to play themselves in what would be a similar, real-life brief encounter.

In this tendency of recent filmmaking the sex is explicit because it plays a significant part of the narrative, for instance, in Patrice Chéreau’s Intimacy (2001): the heterosexual embrace there has an odd form and so the story could not develop without depicting the act. Since emphasis is less on dialogue and a causal chain narrative leading the characters from one point to the next, the body has magnified significance and itself becomes the essence of a narrative, however sparse it may be (Beugnet 2007: 15; Palmer 2011: 60). Ozon answers this question about the refusal of conversational exchanges and replacing them with sexual acts: “for me, these are moments when characters no longer project their discourse, but reveal themselves through their bodies” (Palmer 2011: 62, quoting Ozon). Thus the New Extreme cinema is not without its antecedents in this regard. Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972) and the late Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses (1976) characterize protagonists via their intimate and wordless encounters. And violence in Extreme cinema, additionally unlike Sade, is often climactic, symbolic, or an element of fantasy, for instance in Breillat’s features, or taking place off-screen in the style of Haneke. Again, antecedents are plentiful, with possibilities lurking in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Yoko Ono’s Rape (1969), Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), Just Jaeckin’s Emmanuelle (1974) and The Story of O (Histoire d’O, 1975), the 1970s avant-garde/minimalist filmmakers Marguerite Duras, Jean Eustache, and Chantal Akerman, and the oeuvre and style of Stan Brakhage (1952-2004), Pier Paolo Pasolini (1961-1976), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1965-1982), David Lynch (1968-present), and many others, including the surrealists.

Explicit sexuality and brutal violence are essential to New Extreme features but are also overemphasized by critics and theorists. These scenes often comprise only a few minutes of the action. In addition to depicting a naturalistic moment of violence (Bogdan 2012), directors also play with slowness and style, and attempt via stylized cinematography, non-professional actors, and real spaces to portray the ambiguity or ambivalence of characters’ relationship to both sexuality and violence. Scenes and sequences prior to and proceeding the sexual or violent outburst warrant our attention as much as those that are perhaps morally reprehensible. It goes without saying then that Quandt’s attempt to negotiate disparate films into a tendency falls short of its goal, if the primary focus is the, albeit lengthy, explicitness of those named.

New Extremism beyond France

Moving away from “typically French” film may prove difficult for spectators outside the academy. Martin Barker’s audience research (2010: 145) suggests that British reception of French cinema has suffered since those who quickly dismiss a feature do so because of its “Frenchness” – explicit, pornographic, pretentious, artsy shit – and those who embrace a film fail to provide adequate reception by praising its “Frenchness” – explicit, provocative, erotic, bold and daring, intelligent, etc.7 That being said, in line with scholarship, I tend to agree that by 2011 Quandt was correct in noting the tendency in France has gone beyond the country’s borders and impacting filmmaking practices elsewhere. This is not to say that it is only fresh directors that are categorically extreme; some have indeed been making feature-length films before 1997 (Breillat, Leos Carax, Tsai Ming-liang, Larry Clark). But the French Extremists, for the most part, are post-1997.

Last semester we screened a film by Catherine Breillat to mark her influence and prominence in New Extreme studies. This French director precedes the trend by two decades with A Real Young Girl (Une vraie jeune fille, 1976) and it was not until the success of Romance, more than twenty years later, that her Bataille-inspired film was given a release.8 The most important film is perhaps Fat Girl from 2001, falling within Quandt’s proclaimed period of New French Extremity, and perhaps provides the best sense of my narrow interest in the field, and secondly, is a no more perfect film to define the trend’s characteristics and features.

With Breillat’s 2001 feature it becomes quite clear that the French Extreme is concerned with atypical bourgeois storylines, minimalist storytelling along the lines of a chamber play, depicting a two character drama9 in which, following ambiguous and risky sexual relations and the impositions of social/cultural norms, a graphic and brutal attack occurs on one or both of the characters, symbolic of desire or a manifestation of it, i.e., desire’s radiant passions, depravity, anger, and oppressive past. The climactic scenes of violence appear toward the end of the narrative, much of the time unexpectedly, thus forcing the viewer, upon leaving the theatre, to return to elements of the story and put the pieces of the puzzle together. As in the case of Breillat, she will come outright with her message; Dumont, whose film we are watching tonight, conversely has said in interviews, “I am interested in sensation, not sense,” and “My film has nothing to say.” Eschewing sense-making and politics in many cases (Beugnet & Ezra 2010: 35), New Extreme filmmakers respect the integrity and intelligence of the viewer, allowing him or her to have an entirely subjective experience of the material object. It is the filmmakers’ philosophical engagement through characters in the midst of existential crises and nihilistic encounters (Coulthard 2010: 171) which foregrounds this cinema as a more contemplative one than its counterparts on both small and large screens.

The directors explored in this series are part of the festival circuit, and make their living so to speak, on exhibiting at the most prestigious. Breillat, Dumont, Reygadas, and Tsai have won countless awards, including a number at Cannes. Flanders, for instance, received the Grand Prize of the Jury in 2006.

I suggested in the Arthur article ( that Flanders provides the space for critical reflection on war and wartime atrocities by refusing to gesture toward politics. Dumont asks us to think for ourselves about the images and events; he presents rape, torture, and death with an objectivity that will no doubt make us uncomfortable. In addition to a squad of soldiers fighting in a desert somewhere – filmed in Tunisia but never identified as such – Flanders is a story of love and the catastrophic impact not just on those doing the killing or being killed themselves, but on family and friends anxiously awaiting news of death or life back home. Adelaide Leroux plays Barbe, the lover of characters Demester and Blondel; the anxiety of knowing whether your one love may survive war is tough enough, and having the two most important persons on the edge of death in turn devastates her emotionally. All three characters are played by non-professional actors, again adding to this sense of realism as these individuals may very well be called off to fight. Samuel Boidin for instance, who plays Demester, does not have a Hollywood appearance – there is something already real in the way he looks to us, his facial features and gestures speaking much louder than the few lines of dialogue he actually delivers.

The landscape of Tunisia reminds us of the recent battles in the Middle East, and the title refers to technological warfare’s beginning: all three characters reside in contemporary Flanders and thus Dumont invokes the horror of WW1 in a contemporary context.

Flandres 1

1 Tanya Horeck and Tine Kendall 2011, 10: “It is notable that almost all the essays in this volume [on New Extremism] refer to Quandt’s impassioned essay, even if it is only to set themselves in opposition to its claims, a move that testifies to its enduring significance as a tour de force in polemical writing.” Additionally, I would add, many other essays post-2004 begin with Quandt’s definition. Few however, perhaps because Jonathan Romney (2004) already did so, take him to task. For a more positive review of Bruno Dumont’s Twentynine Palms see McKibbin n/d; for theoretical treatments see Coulthard 2010 and Archer 2011.

It is also worth noting that Sight and Sound took notice of recent explorations of sexual and violent European cinema as early as 2001, devoting a whole issue to the subject. Cf. James 2001.

2 Aware of his mistake, Quandt notes the distinction between New Extremism and recent French horror/gore films such as Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs (2008) and Julien Maury’s Inside (À l’intérieur, 2007). High Tension (Haute Tension, 2008) is also often discussed within the subgenre.

3 Bertrand Bonello’s The Pornographer (1999) depicts a “money shot”, however, it is in the pornographic film shooting within the fictional world of the film, and so real semen, i.e., from the body of a porn-actor, is therefore no more offensive or shocking than the birth-scene of Romance.

4 François Ozon’s See the Sea (1997) ends with a disturbing murder akin to the finale of Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795). The dramatic unfolding in this 51 minute feature, besides its gruesome conclusion, does not resemble The Marquis is any other way.

5 Martine Beugnet has also published a short essay, “Cinema and Sensation: Contemporary French Film and Cinematic Corporeality”, Paragraph 3.2 (2008), 178-188, consisting of her first section in the previous year’s book Cinema and Sensation: French Film and the Art of Transgression (2007). Despite the publication date of the article, I take the book to be the polished work and refer to it throughout.

6 Beugnet and Ezra (2010: 35) make a passing remark about New Extreme generally in this regard.

7 See the IMDB message boards for any of the New French Extreme works for these user reviews.

8 Banned. See Keesey 2009

9 Breillat mentions the uniqueness of this picture for her, having three main characters (2004b)


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