As Bastille Day (July 14) is fast approaching, it will be right to look at some scandalous French films. Don't get upset, as Marquis de Sade was a French aristocrat. And Joel and Ethan Coen filmed a short feature about an American tourist's first trip to Paris. (He smiled at a pretty local at the Paris MÃ©tro. He got a beating afterwards.) Not that the French people are staunch defenders of freedom of expression, but there might be something else.
Paris was once a playground for artists, where the likes of Henry Miller articulated the sexual freedom that Americans would frown at. Even "Boudu Saved from Drowning", one of the early films in French classics, featured a tramp who seduced the wife of a man who saved him from near death. MÃ©nage Ã trois (or a household of three), a form of polyamory, was a frequent theme in French Cinema. Think of Bertrand Blier's "Too Beautiful for You", where a car dealer cheated on his beautiful wife by having an affair with his plain-looking secretary. It could tell a thing or two about French society, but this would be tame compared to what have been released during the last few decades. If Marguerite Duras were around, she would be embarrassed. Here's a short list:
I Stand Alone (1998) by Gaspar NoÃ©. This debut film by Gaspar NoÃ©, who was 35 years of age, would make "Taxi Driver" look wholesome. Martin Scorsese may be deemed controversial by conservative Americans, but he won't plunge to the depths that the Argentinian-born filmmaker did in "I Stand Alone". Take a look at a middle-aged butcher who was orphaned at a young age. He became a horse meat butcher, a profession that didn't sit well with many Frenchmen. He had a girlfriend, who left him when she gave birth to a girl. He had a string of affairs, which didn't last long. He was lonely. He became overprotective of his teenage daughter. And he developed incestuous feelings towards her. The story doesn't have any redeeming values, which would turn off many viewers. (And they can't be blamed at all.) But NoÃ© crafted a powerful feature that could make some members of the audience wonder if life was truly unfair for some individuals. And then the awful truth. What happened to the kind people?
Sitcom (1998) by FranÃ§ois Ozon. The opening scene showed a man killing his wife and children after they greeted him on his birthday. A flashback revealed a laboratory rat, which the man brought to the household. It was a source of their trouble, which was too twisted for the sensible mind. But Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Satan's Brew" could be Ozon's inspiration. It was a psychotic feature in case you were wondering about it.
Romance (1999) by Catherine Breillat. You would love Marie, the main character, or hate Catherine Breillat for penning a screenplay about intimacy and sexual freedom. It was hard to tell if this art film was a feminist picture, while Breillat had a smirk on her face. It would be better to take this story with a grain of salt, as Marie's experience might reflect Breillat's early life. The final scene may be a joke.
Baise-moi (2000) by Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi. It garnered negative reviews, which wasn't surprising at all. Both filmmakers were a part of adult entertainment. It was a nihilistic version of "Thelma and Louise", a disillusioned view of women's empowerment. An objective mind won't be enough.
Trouble Every Day (2001) by Claire Denis. This was a disturbing tale of a housewife who tended to bite her lovers to death. Denis was raised in colonial French Africa, so there could be something there. But she might have some sources.