|Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death!|
These films are as transgressive as they are difficult to watch. They follow a history of France's aggressively assertive art forms. They may not be accepted by they are undeniable. Keep in mind France's varied and vast history in art and literature. (one of the most influential pieces being Gustav Courbet's L'Origine du Monde) In the 1920s French actor, director and poet Antonin Artaud wrote about his notion of THe Theatre of Cruelty, ""I propose a theatre whose violent physical images pulverise, mesmerise the audience's sensibilities, caught in the drama as if in a vortex of higher forces." Essentially all images (real, visual, written or otherwise) that shock an audience into consciousness. While these films are often thought of as being in "torture porn" genre they actually transcend the torture aspect in hopes of achieving something beyond pain. And, of course, pain is different than torture.
This movement can be associated with the rise of right-wing politics in France. France is a far cry from the film of Goddard or even Before Sunset. Some believe the FNE as promoting homophobic, conservative ideals which I would argue against (though I can see their point) In the 80s and 90s my only real perception of France were those goofy Stella Artois ads and Amelie. More Moliere than Marquis de Sade. More grand guignol than Before Sunset.
If anything, NFE has more in common with the Grindhouse movement of the States such as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, films designed to shock and provoke the bourgeois class. It is meant to shake their notions of family, relationships, education all the things society is taught to seek out. These films (at their best) question the weight put on established norms and what happens when we break the rules.
As Artaud dreamed of an art form that would "choose themes and subjects corresponding to the agitation and unrest of our times" NFE, it seems, is daring to do that. And our times may be more terrifying than we are willing to believe.