1. 1954, Saint-Étienne, France

“Cinema is made (above all) with the hands, with the skin, with the entire body, by fatigue, by breath, by the pulsations of the blood, the rhythm of the heart, by the muscles. Body and sensation, that is the machine, its absolute power, its obsession. That is its becoming. Invented bodies, comical, grotesque, obscene, the improbable bodies of the stars and the monsters, and light, its palpitation, and the beating of shots, and in us, fear, joy, hope, sadness, the obscure deployment of human passions.” – Philippe Grandrieux1

During a key sequence in director Philippe Grandrieux’s 2002 masterpiece, La vie nouvelle (A New Life), actress Anna Mouglalis’ face gradually emerges from the darkness to reveal that she is in a nightclub, wearing a white lace dress so thin it is essentially see-through. Accompanied by only sparsely used but eerie guitar music, she half-speaks, half-sings the lyrics to a song of obsessive, Orphic love with lyrics like: “strange fresh fruit to quench your thirst”; “take this flesh divine, drink this wine, this blood of mine”. A beautiful but chilling sensory experience, this scene cements a young man’s obsession with Mouglalis’ character, which he will pursue to whatever end. For me, this sequence illustrates what is so essential to Grandrieux’s cinema: his transgressive use of music, movement and dance; and his recurring themes of perverse love, loss, desire and violence. As another character in the film intones, the ultimate narrative objective of many of Grandrieux’s films seems to be “to love, until you lose your mind”.

Though he is often grouped with other directors associated with the loose New French Extremity movement – such as Gaspar Noé, Catherine Breillat, Marina de Van and Alexandre Aja – Grandrieux is a curiously neglected figure in contemporary French cinema, perhaps due to the often experimental, challenging nature of his narrative films; and though he has also made several documentaries, those will be my focus here. Titles like Sombre (1998), A New Life, Un lac (A Lake, 2008) and Malgré la nuit (Despite the Night, 2015) include a simple, fairytale-like narrative at their core that is obfuscated by layers of experimental audio and visual techniques. Grandrieux’s fixation on thematic concerns like violence, transgressive sexuality and emotional cruelty transcends conventional plot, while providing a unifying link throughout his work.

Malgré la nuit (Despite the Night, 2015)

Malgré la nuit (Despite the Night, 2015)

Grandrieux got his start studying film at the Belgian Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle, and worked for years as a director and producer in French television. A series of documentaries and television work – such as Une génération (A Generation, 1982) and Berlin (1987) – allowed him to experiment with sounds and cinematic form and to begin to connect with other boundary-pushing artists, both themes central to his ongoing work as a director and cinematic artist. Some of his early documentary work, such as Retour à Sarajevo (Return to Sarajevo, 1996), informed his features; for example, his experience making this film was the catalyst for A New Life. As with some other contemporary French directors, such as Claire Denis, however obliquely, Grandrieux examines the consequences of colonialism, war and political violence. Martine Beugnet writes that his films address “the experience of exile”.2

In Grandrieux’s films, bodies are the primary canvas for his cinematic experiments with colour, texture, lighting, framing and focus. Through his manipulation of physical form, subjectivity and identity unravel on screen, leaving not only the films’ characters, but also their viewers disoriented and destabilised. What Beugnet describes as the “cinema of sensation” is able to “immerse us in the pleasure and terror of the ‘formless’”.3 This “cinema of the senses always hovers at the edge of pleasure and abjection”.4 Critics like Beugnet, Nicole Brenez and Greg Hainge have drawn connections between Grandrieux and his potential influences: filmmakers, artists, and philosophers like Jean Epstein, Antonin Artaud and especially Gilles Deleuze. In this sense, Grandrieux – perhaps even more than any of the other New French Extremity directors – is part of a centuries-old literary and artistic tradition in France that fixates on transgression and subversion, from the Marquis de Sade in the 18th century to Charles Baudelaire, the Comte de Lautréamont and J.K. Huysmans in the 19th century and figures like Georges Bataille, Jean Genet and Alain Robbe-Grillet in the 20th century.

Monstrous Transformations in Sombre

Like some of these earlier transgressive literary figures, Grandrieux’s basic plots often have the general structure of a fairy tale: a simple, repetitive story line that is repeated, to varying degrees, throughout his films. In this sense, his work can be connected to the French tradition of the fantastique, which began in 18th and 19th century literature, essentially the country’s version of the English Gothic tale, albeit stranger, more surreal and more overtly erotic. These tales inspired early French genre filmmakers like Georges Franju and Jean Rollin and include themes of tormented love, supernatural terrors, corpses, violence and murder: perhaps more adult versions of the stories penned by early fairytale writers like Charles Perrault and Madame d’Aulnoy.

On the surface, Grandrieux’s first feature film, Sombre, is about a serial killer’s strange romance, but it contains a number of fairytale themes embedded in its core. Martine Beugnet begins her seminal study of transgressive French cinema, Cinema and Sensation, with a discussion of the opening frames of Sombre, noting its connection to childhood and fairytales: “Grandrieux’s images refer to the lost pleasure of the complete rapture often experienced in childhood. There is a sinister undercurrent to the sequence in Sombre, however, an ominous sense of threat. […] The sequence could offer a familiar, endearing sight; yet it creates an unsettling feeling, as if something vampiric was at work in these shots drained of light and images, the distortion of the picture and sound emphasising the ambiguous mix of pleasure and abysmal fear of the children’s reactions.”5 Beugnet draws a connection between Sombre and similar sequences of childhood play in Truffaut’s Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959), which was transgressive in its own way at the time for its themes of petty crime and rebellion. In a more experimental and jarring sense, Sombre manipulates and subverts expected depictions of children on screen.

Sombre (1998)

Sombre (1998)

The film opens with their eerie screams and it is initially unclear whether these are shrieks of delight or terror. Soon after, Grandrieux similarly manipulates our interpretation of more adult moaning: Jean (Marc Barbé) is having sex with a woman (Coralie Trinh Thi, co-director of the 2000 film Baise-moi), and while her cries seem to be pleasurable, he is quickly revealed to be a murderer and they become sounds of pain. The loosely plotted film essentially concerns his chance meeting with a young woman, Claire (Elina Löwensohn), when she is stranded by the side of the road after a minor car accident in a rainstorm. His solitary wanderings along the rural highways of France – presumably to seek out victims during the Tour de France – are interrupted by their mutual if confusing attraction.

Sombre’s fairytale themes are not unique to Grandrieux, but recur throughout many of the films of New French Extremity, including in works by François Ozon, Denis and Breillat. These are “works where the evocation of the darker side of the human psyche encroaches on the universe of the dream-like, to include fairy-tale or mythological figures of becoming that detach the subjective body from fixed gender identities […] and stress the kinship of the human figure with beasts, plants and minerals: the half-human/half-beast”6 as seen in films like Sombre and A New Life, but also Denis’ Trouble Every Day (2001) and Breillat’s À ma sœur (Fat Girl, 2001), among others.

And as with the films of David Lynch, doubles and doppelgangers – also a popular fairytale trope – recur throughout Grandrieux’s films; in this case, Sombre is concerned with two sisters who act as mirror images of each other. Dark-haired and virginal, Claire is the opposite of her sister Christine (Géraldine Voillat), who is blonde and sexual. After Jean picks up Claire in his car, he takes her to meet Christine and the threesome begin an impromptu journey, frequenting hotels, nightclubs and swimming holes. Christine makes several persistent passes at Jean, who rejects her until they are alone in a lake; there, he assaults her, presumably restraining himself just enough to keep from raping and murdering her. Though both women are hurt and outraged, they remain with Jean for a time. When Christine departs, she seems to understand her sister’s dangerous, contradictory impulse to remain behind with Jean.

Sombre (1998)

Sombre (1998)

Beugnet argues that Grandrieux’s use of violence within his films is connected less to French films from the period that dip into shock-horror or torture-porn territory, such as Haute tension (High Tension, Alexandre Aja, 2003) or Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008), than to the fairytale. She writes that “the realm of the fairy tale” is related to “an archaic state of wonder and fear that recalls Bataille’s elaborations on the paradoxical nature of being human: ‘Fairy tales […] contain a great deal of violence and cruelty, like the desires that pass through us. They contain and reveal that founding, archaic and animal part of us that is eventually tamed by society.’”7

There is something bestial about Jean and he remains utterly untamed by society, despite his feelings for Claire. Greg Hainge connects him to the medieval figure of the werewolf: perhaps supernatural, but lawless, outcast, living outside of society itself, a “troubling, liminal figure who casts into doubt the very categorical imperatives of society and civilization”.8 Hainge describes Jean as “a figure who lives divided between the forest and the city”, whose life is defined by violence as a philosophical construct and as a physical act: he is the embodiment of the bestial, devouring and destructive forces of nature. “The principle of violence that governs Jean’s life is in fact merely an explicit and extreme expression of a fundamental principle that exists in nature.” It is, quite literally, “the violence of being”.9

Jean is certainly humanised throughout the film, which refuses to pass moral judgement on either him or Claire. His restraint with Christine – despite attacking her – and, later, greater restraint with Claire becomes an almost heroic act, and his love for Claire seems genuine despite the fact that he is a monstrous, devouring force within the film. Beugnet writes that he is “obsessed with orifices, with the mouth and female genitals, it is he who, by his presence, creates a hole in the visual texture of the film; the image often offers shots of the back of his head or head and shoulders forming a blurred shape that obscures the view”.10

Like Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), the iconic antagonist of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), Jean seems aroused to both sex and violence by music and dance, two critical components to all of Grandrieux’s films. Soundscape and score are crucial to his oeuvre (Sombre includes original music by Suicide’s Alan Vega). Notably – and drawing a connection back to Lynch – this occurs during night-time car rides down lonely stretches of road or when a partially nude woman is dancing up against a wall, illuminated only by a car’s headlights. This is combined with electronic dance music, as several scenes in this film, as well as several of Grandrieux’s others, are set at nightclubs. The dance club, as an institution, seems to be the one place where Jean willingly, even enthusiastically, emerges from the shadows to mingle with society. It is a setting where social constraints are cast aside, giving way to alcoholic reverie, sexual abandon and romantic predation.

2002 La vie nouvelle (A New Life, 2002)

La vie nouvelle (A New Life, 2002)

Ecstatic Frenzy in A New Life

If possible, dance, movement, music and song have even greater importance in Grandrieux’s follow-up film, A New Life. As with his other features, this film doesn’t completely eschew a narrative framework, but only adheres to the broad brushstrokes of a larger story about Seymour (Zachary Knighton), a young American somewhere in Eastern Europe who falls in love with a beautiful prostitute, Mélania (Anna Mouglalis). As in Sombre, sound, light and texture is as important – if not more so – than narrative cohesion; perhaps as a result, A New Life is comprised of moments of eroticism, terror, abjection and beauty.

As with Sombre, key sequences take place at a nightclub, and the previously mentioned musical performance from Mouglalis is central to the film’s loose narrative. Adrian Martin has argued that Grandrieux’s films can actually be interpreted as modern, experimental musicals. He writes, “Grandrieux’s films are severely mutated musicals. There is even a song delivered in a seedy Sarajevo nightclub by Anna Mouglalis in La vie nouvelle, reminding us of the spaced-out performances of Isabella Rossellini in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) and Asia Argento in Abel Ferrara’s New Rose Hotel (1998). The dance music in Grandrieux’s films is always driven, anguished. A robotic techno beat overlaid by punk cries, slurs, growls, murmurs.”11

The group Étant Donnés took over from Alan Vega to provide the score for this film, which is almost exclusively pulsating techno or eerie ambient music. Presumably named for Marcel Duchamp’s impactful final painting – which depicts a distorted view of a woman’s naked body lying in the grass, angled towards her pelvis, with her legs spread open – their music and the dance it inspires serve as a sort of liminal gateway between life and death, sex and violence. Martin writes, “Mise en scène – the art of bodies in space – is always, subtly or overtly, a dance, but this is the dance of death, the living death of everyday power relations.”12

Somewhat reminiscent of that of Andrzej Zulawski, who seemed to bring actors into trance states through frenzied, physically demanding performances in films like Diabel (The Devil, 1972), Possession (1981) and La femme publique (1984), Grandrieux’s role as a director has a shamanic function. In an interview with Nicole Brenez, Grandrieux himself said, “My perception of the film was physical and intimate, like for a shaman. I just had to be a conductor for the flux, the music, the rhythms – the body exists to transmit all this.”13 Instead of dialogue, or direct action, it seems to be music and dance that ripples through characters, impacting the film’s events.

Philippe Grandrieux

Philippe Grandrieux

In a later scene, it is Boyan (Zsolt Nagy), the primary antagonist and sex trafficker, who exerts a puppet master-like control over Mélania and conducts her in a dance sequence that leads to a seemingly bestial transformation within her. Brenez writes, “For the shaman, it’s a matter of transforming this world into another, but in the most precise way. Trance is often considered as a state of confusion, but in fact it’s the contrary – the access to a much clearer perception.”14 Grandrieux explained that these dance sequences depict “bodies caught up in some kind of ritual to which we would have no access, whose codes are unknown. A very archaic ritual, perhaps with glimpses of body parts, something which would be happening and repeating weirdly. I wanted total night – to work in the deepest recesses of night.”15

Later in the film, dance sequences were shot with a thermal camera, so that Mélania and the other revellers are transformed into white smears of subhuman light, writhing around in darkness. While loosely similar scenes occur in Sombre and Grandrieux’s later films like Despite the Night and his more experimental White Epilepsy (2002), A New Life reaches truly horrific and disorienting heights, particularly for what is ostensibly a narrative film. Mélania and Seymour descend into a dionysian realm of revelry that represents an unlimited potential for sex, violence and transformation. Beugnet writes, “The result is a vision of ultimate abjection; bodies metamorphose into monstrous creatures, eyeless, translucent silhouettes, part-human, part-animal, howling and hovering blindly in the dark, and tearing up each other’s flesh – a scene of utter chaos, filled by an inchoate mix of rumbling noise and distorted yells.”16

At its conclusion, dialogue, singing and the cries of pleasure and pain that pepper the film are replaced with guttural screams. In Michel Rubin’s essay on the scream in Grandrieux’s films – and, by extension, in modern art and cinema – he writes, “The human scream is built into the sonic fabric of the soundtrack and visualised through the vibrating camera. It is never simply a question of the person who screams, but rather cinema’s capacity to intensify the violent sensation of the scream and attach it to chaos.”17 Rubin notes that this connects Grandrieux’s work to painting, like Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and to “a wider avant-garde tendency, a decisive mode of operation that will attempt to express the unbearable trauma of the 20th Century – ravaged by war, famine and genocide – and simultaneously exploit its affirmative aesthetic potential.”18

While A New Life may not seem like a political film on the surface, Grandrieux himself said that “all our acts involve politics. […] It is a decision, a very political decision to let the audience face their own desire, their own unrest.”19 The film was inspired by his visit to Sarajevo during the war – and the previously documentary he made, Back to Sarajevo, which recounts the experience of a Bosnian refugee – and it is difficult not to associate the film’s moral and quite literal physical darkness with war and genocide. In his interview with Brenez, Grandrieux said the film was directly inspired by a brief encounter with a young American soldier and a prostitute in a hotel, leading directly to the Orphic narrative of A New Life.20 Brenez writes that the film captures “a collective nightmare, not a small, private daydream. It is the actual nightmare in which we are all plunged since the revolutionary ideals were revealed as non-viable, leaving a world devoid of hope sunk in a state of material as well as moral devastation.”21

The Act of Seeing in A Lake

The devastation of A New Life is also felt in Grandrieux’s next film, A Lake, one of his most sensory experiences to date. While Sombre and A New Life are set in – or at least skirt – civilisation, A Lake is removed utterly in favour of a remote, frozen forest that appears to be in the Alps. Two ageing parents and their three children live in an isolated cottage; young adult siblings Alexi (Dmitriy Kubasov) and Hege (Natálie Rehorová) have a particularly close relationship, partly because of Alexi’s struggles with epilepsy. This is disrupted by the arrival of a young stranger, Jurgen (Aleksey Solonchev). After he helps search for Alexi when he goes missing on a snowy night, the stranger is invited to stay and begins a sexual relationship with Hege.

In an interview, Grandrieux said, “To be able to behold the power of the real, its outpouring, its hallucinatory vibration; to be able to convey this, and for the duration of a shot, to become the sky or a mountain, a river, or the tumultuous mass of the ocean. That’s when cinema is great. The rhythm, the way bodies are framed and lit, that’s when we start to lose ourselves, and cinema comes closest to what it essentially is: a sensual experience of the world.”22 Many scholars, including Beugnet, Brenez and Martin, have described Grandrieux’s films as sensory, sensual, or even haptic experiences. For me, this is nowhere more evident than in A Lake, which begins as explosively and as deceptively as Sombre: Alexi is ferociously hitting something (the camera), and, although I first assumed he was beating a person, he is revealed to be chopping a tree with an axe.

2008 Un lac (A Lake)

Un lac (A Lake, 2008)

While Grandrieux’s films in general explore the physical and the real – even (and especially) when they are at their most experimental – A Lake is his most extensive exploration of the natural world. In an essay on the film’s sense of materiality, Sarinah Masukor writes of “the force with which the camera and sound evoke the sensation of being in the human body”23 in the film in general and particularly in its opening moments. And though the body is a crucial canvas in all of Grandrieux’s films, here he situates it as being a fundamental component of the natural world. Forests feature regularly throughout his films: a dense, dark green Brothers Grimm-like landscape peppers Sombre, while parts of A New Life move to a sparse rural terrain populated by guard dogs (culminating in their vicious and possibly fatal attack on a man), and sadomasochistic play takes place in the night-time woods in Despite the Night.

But the Alps ominously overwhelm A Lake’s visual landscape; even when the setting is beautiful, it is also foreboding. Dense forests that both isolate the characters and give them occasional moments of privacy resemble Gustav Klimt’s stunning yet disorienting series of paintings of birch trees. The forest becomes the physical manifestation of desire and creation as a destabilising force. Grandrieux has written that the future of great cinema will reflect all that we protect ourselves from, that which is “chaotic, delirious, untenable, driven by the unstoppable force of desire”.24 He writes of the “breathtaking beauty” and “unchangeable otherness” of desire itself.25

For Grandrieux, both beauty and desire seem to be closer to Kant’s description of the sublime than they do to any conventional notions of what is pleasing or attractive. Grandrieux describes the future of cinema as an overwhelming – even brutal – and ultimately sensory experience that “stands aside from social conventions, in front of the chaos, outside of language, of sense, without distance, suddenly captured by colour, and it’s the big red flowers and the field and the woods, and it’s the river and the water that is too cold and their hands rubbing their back, warming their small bodies, and it’s the breath against one’s neck and the wet soil under one’s feet.”26

Water running over hands – as two people wash their hands together or run their fingers through a gushing waterfall multiple times throughout the film – is often a sign of unspoken intimacy in A Lake, just as the stranger himself seems to emerge from the lake. Though the film is less overtly violent or transgressive than either Sombre or A New Life, what A Lake does most profoundly is establish a different way of looking at the body itself. Masukor writes, “Grandrieux opens the eye up to the possibilities of sight. By presenting a vision that is fluid, amorphous and disorienting, Un lac shifts what we define as an image.”27 Grandrieux himself said in an interview, “Bodies in a way are fiction also, because there are different types of ways in which you can consider a body, for example a social way. The body is never one body.”28

Throughout Grandrieux’s career, his use of the body has garnered comparisons to experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, who eschewed narrative structure in favour of light, form and sound, though many of his films depict bodies quite radically. In The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (1971), Brakhage brought his camera to a Pittsburgh morgue and filmed a series of autopsies – a word that literally translates to “self-seeing” or “self-seen” – less as a medical documentary and more as a study of the human form: a foot, a glistening lung, gloved hands sliding a syringe into a torso, human skin peeled back to expose a ribcage, and so on. Grandrieux said that while he hasn’t actually seen many Brakhage films, he loved The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes in particular.29 Like Brakhage’s exercise in that film, Grandrieux seems to be intent on finding new ways to view and display the human body.

Despite The Night (2015)

Malgré la nuit (Despite the Night, 2015)

Numerous critics have drawn attention to the influence of Gilles Deleuze on Grandrieux, particularly his concept of the “body without organs”30 – a way to restructure thinking about both one’s own body and bodies (or systems) in general, developed in relation to Deleuze’s writings on Antonin Artaud, and literally taken from a phrase in Artaud’s 1947 play To Have Done with the Judgement of God. This idea of corpses, autopsied bodies and bodies as the site of violence is central to Grandrieux’s concept of cinema, particularly a new form of cinematic expression. In a moving essay for Cahiers du cinéma, he quotes Artaud, citing the autopsy table as a place where bodies can be remade. He writes, “Artaud the magician called for the transmutation of cinema, it must be of another substance in order to express the matters of thought, the interior conscience. […] One must close the gap between oneself, one’s body, and the source of sensation. […] Bodies will be the simulacrum through which we will experience and experiment the power of our desire, its ‘voluptuous emotion’. Will fiction be embodied, carnal, made of blood and muscles?”31

The Transmutation of Flesh in White Epilepsy and Despite the Night

Grandrieux’s most recent films, from White Epilepsy through 2017’s Unrest, answer this question in the affirmative: narrative, at least in his films, is made of flesh, blood, muscle, bodies. White Epilepsy is the beginning of an experimental trilogy that includes Meurtrière (Murderess, 2015) and Unrest, all of which examine the body in motion. Running for just over an hour, White Epilepsy is an exploration of nude bodies in one of Grandrieux’s favourite settings, the forest. Stripped of any narrative framework, the film falls somewhere between modern dance and performance art. Grandrieux said that “cinema is the industry of the bodies”,32 and this trilogy is his fullest expression of this theme thus far – and his furthest work exploring cinema as an expression of liminality.

On the second film in the series, Murderess, Michael Sicinski writes, “Grandrieux is of course asking us to study the movements as formal events – light and shadow – but to also consider the unstable fluctuations of the body’s micro-responses. […] Grandrieux’s jumbled, orgiastic compositions resemble the anguished bodies in Caravaggio’s crucifixions, emblematic of the Baroque tendency to compel devotion by making the Word into succulent Flesh.”33 Sometimes criticised for his intellectualism – and the overt influence of painters, like Francis Bacon, or philosophers, like Deleuze, on his work – Grandrieux has taken these theoretical concepts and explored them in essay form throughout this trilogy.

White Epilepsy (2012)

White Epilepsy (2012)

Where an early film like Sombre explored the contradiction between cries of pleasure and screams of pain, and A Lake examined the writhings of orgasm versus epileptic fit, White Epilepsy, Murderess and Unrest distil and exclusively focus on these ambiguous, dichotomous physical gestures with the face as a primary focus. Sicinski writes, “Not unlike [Jean-Martin] Charcot’s images of hysteria, Meurtrière ends with a close-up of the face of one of the performers. […] The woman is shown convulsing, throwing her naked body forward and back in the face of the camera. Her eyes are wide open yet blank, as if she were under the thrall of an outside force, be it hysteria, a petit mal seizure, overpowering violence, or extreme sexual pleasure.”34

This exploration of seemingly contradictory human impulses is also at the heart of Grandrieux’s most recent narrative film, 2015’s Despite the Night. Returning to the Orphic framework of A New Life, the film follows Lenz (Kristian Marr) on his search through Paris for a woman named Madeleine. He encounters and falls in love with Hélène (Ariane Labed), who is deeply grieving for the loss of her child, and exorcises her pain by taking part in nocturnal sadomasochistic rituals in the woods. Lenz’s other affair, with a nightclub singer, Lena (Roxane Mesquida), is a complicating factor, as she becomes determined to have Lenz for herself.

Grandrieux writes, “The script of cinema was Sadean from the beginning”,35 but this is his most overtly sadomasochistic film, complete with pornography, snuff films and violent underground sex rings. While this follows a similar trajectory as A New Life, in the sense that a man tries to rescue a woman from a darkly sexual underworld, Despite the Night turns the formula on its head in two ways. Unlike Grandrieux’s previous narrative films, it suggests that redemption and rebirth are possible, even in the wake of death and loss. Secondly, its seemingly victimised female character is operating under her own agency, not a prostitute forced into a life of human trafficking. Grandrieux explains that he does not see Hélène as a masochist, because she isn’t using pain as “the possibility to access to pleasure. […] Through the pain, a door is opening inside of her. […] She’s not at all a victim of anything.”36 Grandrieux discusses orgasm as “an opening” or “a zone”, a liminal space he also explored in earlier films that here becomes a gateway to the psyche itself.

Despite The Night (2015)

Malgré la nuit (Despite the Night, 2015)

In the same interview, he explains that the similar names of the characters within the film – Madeleine, Hélène, Lenz, Lena – are intentional and that these characters are, in Michael Glover Smith’s words, “facets of the same personality”.37 Like David Lynch’s use of doppelgangers, these doubles, shadow selves and mirror images are a way for Grandrieux to explore the inherent contradictions within humanity itself and “the question of what it is to be human, this constant menace, a pressure so great that it envelops us”, as well as the confrontation with “the Other who is infinitely possible and yet infinitely closed and inaccessible”.38 Ultimately, his films are a reminder of the chaos whirling just outside civilised society that we constantly try to hold at bay. In To Have Done with the Judgement of God, Artaud writes, “Where there is a stink of shit, there is a smell of being.”39 In Grandrieux’s films, it is the stench of blood, sweat, come and decay, as well as the soil of the forest floor, that not only calls our beingness sharply, painfully to mind, but that also reminds us of the inherent chaos and violence of the universe.


1975 Via la vidéo (Video installation)
1981 La peintre cubiste (Cubist Painting) (TV short, co-directed with Thierry Kuntzel)
1982 Petits écrans du Caire (The Small Screens of Cairo) (TV Short)
1982 Une génération (A Generation) (TV documentary short)
1983 Pleine lune (Full Moon) (TV documentary)
1984 Grandeur nature (Life-sized) (TV documentary)
1985 Long courrier (Long Haul) (TV documentary short)
1987 Berlin (TV documentary short)
1987 Berlin/Paris/Berlin (TV documentary)
1990 Histoires (Stories) (TV documentary)
1992 Cafés (TV documentary)
1993 Brian Holm (TV documentary short)
1993 Gert Jan Theunisse (TV documentary short)
1993 La chasse au Starck (The Starck Hunt) (TV documentary)
1994 Les enjeux militaires (Military Stakes) (TV documentary, not screened)
1994 Jogo du bicho/Le jeu des animaux (The Animal Game) (Documentary)
1996 Retour à Sarajevo (Return to Sarajevo) (Documentary)
1998 Sombre
2002 La vie nouvelle (A New Life)
2005 L’arrière-saison (Indian Summer) (Video installation)
2006 Grenoble (Video installation)
2006 Met (Video installation)
2007 Marilyn Manson – Putting Holes in Happiness (Music video)
2008 Un lac (A Lake)
2011 Il se peut que la beauté ait renforcé notre résolution – Masao Adachi (It May Be That Beauty Has Reinforced Our Resolve – Masao Adachi) (Documentary)
2012 White Epilepsy
2015 Meurtrière (Murderess)
2015 Malgré la nuit (Despite the Night)
2017 Unrest


  1. Philippe Grandrieux, “Sur l’horizon insensé du cinéma”, Cahiers du cinéma hors série: Le siècle du cinema (November 2000); as translated by Maria Palacios Cruz in Philippe Grandrieux, “About the ‘Insane Horizon’ of Cinema”, Diagonal Thoughts, 3 March 2013, http://www.diagonalthoughts.com/?p=1423
  2. Martine Beugnet, Cinema and Sensation: French Film and the Art of Transgression (Carbondale, Illinois: SIU Press, 2007), p. 109.
  3. ibid., p. 16.
  4. ibid., p. 32.
  5. ibid., p. 1.
  6. ibid., p. 131.
  7. ibid., p. 128.
  8. Greg Hainge, Philippe Grandrieux: Sonic Cinema (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2017), p. 151.
  9. ibid., p. 151.
  10. Beugnet, op. cit., p. 115.
  11. Adrian Martin, “Dance Girl Dance: Philippe Grandrieux’s La Vie nouvelle (The New Life, 2002),” Kinoeye 4.3 (26 July 2004), http://www.kinoeye.org/04/03/martin03.php
  12. ibid.
  13. Philippe Grandrieux, in Nicole Brenez, “The Body’s Night: An Interview with Philippe Grandrieux,” Rouge 1 (2003), http://www.rouge.com.au/1/grandrieux.html
  14. ibid.
  15. Grandrieux, in ibid.
  16. Beugnet, op. cit., p. 88.
  17. Michel Rubin, “The Affective Force of the Scream in the Cinema of Philippe Grandrieux,” Screening the Past 43 (April 2018), http://www.screeningthepast.com/2017/12/the-affective-force-of-the-scream-in-the-cinema-of-philippe-grandrieux/
  18. ibid.
  19. Philippe Grandrieux, in Amos Borchert and Dennis Vetter, “Interview with Philippe Grandrieux,” Negativ, 17 October 2012, http://www.negativ-film.de/interview-with-philippe-grandrieux/
  20. Brenez, op. cit.
  21. Nicole Brenez (ed.), La Vie Nouvelle: nouvelle vision (Paris: Léo Sheer, 2005), p. 21.
  22. Philippe Grandrieux, ‘Sur l’horizon insensé du cinéma’, op. cit.
  23. Sarinah Masukor, “Sublime Materiality: Un lac,Screening the Past 37 (September 2013), http://www.screeningthepast.com/2013/09/sublime-materiality-un-lac/
  24. Grandrieux, “Sur l’horizon insensé du cinéma”, op. cit.
  25. ibid.
  26. ibid.
  27. Masukor, op. cit.
  28. Philippe Grandrieux, in Lorenzo Baldassari and Nicolò Vigna, “Interview with Philippe Grandrieux,” Lo Specchio Scuro, 22 September 2015, http://specchioscuro.it/interview-philippe-grandrieux-intervista-grandrieux/
  29. ibid.
  30. First mentioned in Deleuze’s 1969 book The Logic of Sense.
  31. Grandrieux, “Sur l’horizon insensé du cinéma”, op. cit.
  32. ibid.
  33. Michael Sicinski, “First Look 2016: Meurtrière,” Reverse Shot, 20 January 2016, http://reverseshot.org/features/2172/meurtriere_grandrieux
  34. ibid.
  35. Grandrieux, “Sur l’horizon insensé du cinéma”, op. cit.
  36. Philippe Grandrieux, in Michael Glover Smith, “Interview with Philippe Grandrieux,” Offscreen 20.4 (April 2016), http://offscreen.com/view/interview-with-philippe-grandrieux
  37. ibid.
  38. Grandrieux, in Brenez, “The Body’s Night”, op. cit.
  39. Antonin Artaud, “To Have Done with the Judgement of God,” Surrealism-Plays, http://surrealism-plays.com/Artaud.html

About The Author

Samm Deighan is Associate Editor of Diabolique Magazine and co-host of the Daughters of Darkness Podcast. She's the editor of Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin and her book on Fritz Lang’s M (1931) is forthcoming.

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