Tuesday, January 3, 2017

French Films or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Madness

The topic of French horror films came up, randomly, in a British pub and the initiator turned to me and said, "Now, I know you hate French films, Jolie, but ... "

Me: "Wait, what? No, I don't hate French films."

Them: "Yes you do."

Me: "No I don't. I love how much they frustrate me. There's a big difference."

So, seeing how the French TV series Dead Crossroads continues to be my most popular (and controversial) post, and the confusion about my respect for French films lingers, all the while my 100% Scandinavian self is given a French name - I thought I would dedicate a few words to help clear up my complicated appreciation for these films. 

*Note, not all films written here are considered horror, but nearly all of them left me with a cold, dark feeling of utter hopelessness and dread (at some point during the film).*

First, I obtained my name because I was born on my father's birthday - the only girl in a large family of boys. Jolie, French for Pretty. I became Jolie Dawn for the pretty morning I decided to suddenly show up on - getting my mother out of a baby shower she wasn't the slightest bit interested in attending. In school I took French classes wherever possible, assuming that my name would automatically give me special powers to understand the language. Several thrown textbooks, time spent in France, and 4 years of classes later I still can only understand it un petit peu.

In 1990 my mother took me to the theater to see Le Château de Ma Mère, my introduction to French cinema. I haven't seen it since but I remember it being a haunting, beautiful, complicated, and a completely Mind-Blowing Film. Mind-Blowing because I actually hadn't seen anything like it before and I realized then, deep down in my gut, that French films and I were going to be butting heads for the rest of my life. They are able to capture a part of my mind, heart, and imagination without giving anything in return except confusion, panic, heartbreak, and total fascination. 

In my early 20s I spent a great deal of time in movie theaters. Have recently been working in one and not yet realizing I could go out and have a beer on a "school night", I would wander from theater to theater watching films in passing - or just to pass the time sometimes. One of the films I caught at that period of my life was the 2001 film Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte Des Loups). Within the first 10 minutes of the movie I was pretty convinced I was going to marry it. Dashing, dramatic, adventurous, and whole-heartedly entertaining, it was the first film I can remember seeing where I absolutely lost myself entirely in it's wonderful and amazing world. And then it got weird and deeply disturbing - downright frightening on a whole new level. I called the marriage off but it still stands as one of the most influential horror films in my love for the genre. 

In my mid-20s I joined my roommate in a showing of the 1966 Au Hasard Balthazar, at our local film festival. About 35 minutes in my eyes glazed over. At that time I stopped trying to chew my popcorn and was just throwing kernels at my face to keep awake. At roughly an hour in something *snapped* in me. I remember it clearly: I was watching the sweet young woman reach for a jar of jam but her hand was suddenly slapped away by the mean older woman (dramatic scene!). I felt it creep up suddenly, violently, and mercilessly: The Laughter. I jumped up, covered my mouth, and ran out of the theater appearing as if I'm about to spurt vomit over everyone in my path. I plowed through the double doors just in time to let out a wail of such bellowing laughter I was sure everyone in the building could hear me (and I didn't care). I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe. I laughed until my eyes hurt from the tears. I stood there in the hallway, ripping out all the laughter I stifled in my life. The laughter came out with such an honest, gratifying, and freeing force that to this day I still look back with fondness. There's not a damn thing funny in the entire film! It's about a mistreated girl and her abused donkey! And here I am, having never laughed harder at a film in all my life. I will always tip my hat to this movie for it's marvel of emotional confusion and absolute odd freedom it brought out in my growth as a person.

By my 30s I had moved out into my own place, acquired a respectable office job, and overall considered myself adult enough to handle actual French Horror Films. I was wrong! Around this time I thought a nice afternoon with the 2003 film High Tension would be a good idea. Not only was I left with more questions than answers but I'm now left with a lifetime of scenes seen that CAN NOT be UNSEEN. I don't think I can forgive this movie for it's ability to make me relive seeing these scenes in my head in attempts to put all the pieces of the story together. Nearly 10 years now, still can't get over it...

Just when I thought High Tension had messed me up, no one - I seriously think no one - can be ready for Martyrs. This is a film where my brother and I whisper the title now and again, give each other a hug, and try to think happy thoughts for several hours. Martyrs, the pinnacle in my absolute loathing/love/hate/appreciation/disgust/fandom for French Horror. It's a horror story unlike anything, *ANYTHING* I have ever seen. Earlier this last year it was suggested by someone that we watch this film for a movie night at a friend's house (a home usually reserved for Mystery Science Theater 3000 films...). I jumped on that suggestion and threw it out of the conversation as fast as someone would a ticking bomb. No one who is mostly a MST3000 Horror Fan is ready for Martyrs - you just ... you just don't do that to people, not if you love them.

During an October Challenge in 2015 I watched the 2007 film, Inside . I essentially bit into a lemon and shouted at the DVD - "Come at me bro!" I thought I was so ready for this film. I was so certain I was ready for this French horror film (particularly since I survived Martyrs) that I blatantly watched a goretastic movie about a pregnant woman ... on my mother's birthday ...  and I vomited, folks. I seriously threw-up in the kitchen sink. Several times. 

As I'm approaching the 40s with the dignity and grace of a someone who abides by the 5 second rule when food falls on the floor, I've slowly but surely introduced French classics into my life. Such as:
In all, I've come to realize that French films are my nemesis only in entertainment form. They do not relax me, they do not *entertain* me, they do not indulge me. They thrust me into an unfamiliar and uncomfortable world where I am not safe and nothing is guaranteed. They make me uneasy, they fascinate me, and they always seems to bring something out in me that I didn't realize was there (and have no idea what to do with afterwards). Why is it always French films that do this? I have no idea and frankly, I don't really want to know. I'm perfectly happy with the mysterious relationship we have. 

Several months ago I read the late 1800's French novel Thérèse Raquin. Just when I thought French horror movies couldn't get more disturbing I've discovered, so help me, a whole new level of cold-sweat torment:

French horror, French stories, French tales of absolute terror: they are my favorite/least favorite/the best/the best at giving me nightmares for a lifetime. I respect it more than I can possibly articulate and probably will until the end of my days. I also look forward to more.

Adieu for now,


No comments:

Post a Comment