Synopsis: Situated between the French arthouse’s extreme edges and exploitation cinema’s lunatic fringe, Gaspar Noe’s notorious feature debut often feels like an existential slasher film as told from the perspective of the killer. Abused at a young age by a priest, an unnamed French butcher ends up killing the man he thought raped his daughter, getting raped himself, and indulging in more hard-to-watch incidents than can be counted on one bloodied hand. It does not end well, to say the least.
Controversy: Noe has never shied away from the graphic (see his rape-revenge drama Irreversible) but his debut feature took many folks completely off-guard with its penchant for perversion, taboo-breaking, and overall brutality. Festival audiences reacted violently at several screenings, though to be fair, he did add a warning title card giving sensitive viewers 30 seconds to vacate the auditorium before his stomach-churning climax. Still, the most sickening and violent scene – in which the butcher performs a DIY abortion on his own wife through a shockingly direct method – raised the majority of public hackles and got the enfant terrible accused of being the cinematic equivalent of a terrorist. Speaking to IndieWire, the filmmaker cited the 1983 Austrian “masterpiece” Angst as one the movie’s indirect inspirations, and talked glowingly of how the movie was banned for being too out-there. Though Noe’s film did not meet the same fate, it was not for lack of trying.