I just discovered the term "French Extreme Wave" (or "New French Extremism"), which denotes a genre of French horror that utilizes unrelentless levels of brutality. Films such as Gaspar Noé's Irréversible, which has a nine-minute rape scene and lots of other assorted violence (and was previously nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes), would make great additions to my List of Films I Won't Watch. While not all the films at the recent 62nd Cannes Film Festival fell into this genre (mostly because they weren't French), there certainly seemed to be a prizewinning plethora of similar themes.
The Palme d'Or, Cannes' highest honour, went to Austrian director Michael Haneke for The White Ribbon. I have mixed feelings about Haneke. I thought his earlier work Caché (Hidden), about a couple who find they are being surveyed by a hidden camera, was complex, taut, and surprising. But then he made Funny Games (twice, actually). Two psychotic strangers home-invade and torture a couple and their son? Umm, noooo thanks. However, The White Ribbon was described by times.com as "an austere and lacerating tale of collective brutality and guilt in a small German village two decades before Hitler took power. This is a pure art film, daunting and demanding, spare and unsparing, making no concession to the prevailing popular taste." It was also called "exquisitely icy formal perfection" in the Guardian.co.uk. Intriguing enough that I may watch it.
The Best Director Award went to Brillante Mendoza, a film-maker from the Philippines, for Kinatay, about rogue cops who kidnap, rape and dismember a prostitute over a very long period of screen time. Great! Another one I won't be watching. Definitely.
Best Actress? Charlotte Gainsbourg in Danish director Lars Von Trier's Antichrist (which was also up for the Palme d'Or). Von Trier is another director that I have mixed feelings about. I loved his TV series The Kingdom, and I also liked The Idiots, one of the first Dogme 95 films. Dancer in the Dark and Breaking the Waves, I had trouble with but ultimately appreciated. I didn't see Dogville for a long time but eventually did and really liked it. I'd watch Charlotte Gainsbourg in anything, but in Antichrist, she tortures her husband and mutilates herself after their child dies. Gainsbourg thanked her co-star Willem Dafoe and von Trier, "who allowed me to live what I believe to be the strongest, most painful and most exciting experience of my whole life." Fantastic! What am I to do? Will I watch this one or not?
And finally, Korean director Park Chan-wook's vampire romance, Thirst, which tied for the Jury Prize. I always appreciate his lush stylistics, over-the-top camera, crazy digital edits, and cartoon-like action scenes. But while Oldboy is one of my favourite films, I felt that the hyperviolence in Lady Vengeance was not quite justified (especially when children are involved). I love vampire flicks, though, so I will likely see Thirst.
But really, what's with all the horror, terror and brutality at Cannes, or in cinema in general? Is it symptomatic of troubled times, a need for catharsis, a logical extension of the human urge to see how far one can go? Got a thought on this? Let me know...