Episode 42. French Kiss: Calvaire (2004) and Martyrs (2008)

nfeDiving into the depths of France and Belgium, Alex and Andrea examine the politics and borders of New French Extremity. Confronting the complex historical narrative that France has created for itself, all is not as it appears as these films bring the repressed to light.


Calvaire. Dir Fabrice Du Welz, 2004.
Martyrs. Dir Pascal Laugier, 2008.


Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity – Alex’s book on things French, filmic and extreme.


Saint Joan of Arc’s Trials – a fascinating morbid legal procedural.



 Intro song: Nail Ballet from Nightmare Picture Theatre, courtesy of James Zirco Fisher.
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5 thoughts on “Episode 42. French Kiss: Calvaire (2004) and Martyrs (2008)

  1. Joshua says:

    To be honest, I had been reluctant to watch Martyrs. I have a hard time with gratuitous violence and have wrongly slotted it in the same category as films like Hostel and Saw. Yes, there were hard to watch scenes but that did not prevent me from loving the film and going over the portrayals of the characters and the themes in my mind long after the credits ran. The violence is an integral part of the plot and in the audience’s journey through this narrative. Through the scenes of abuse, I cringed, winced, plugged my ears, covered my eyes then as the visions of Lucie brought a peace to Anna, I also felt this strong catharsis come over me. It was so present and intense; a singular feeling that I appreciate what this film offered.

    There are so many things to say about both Calvaire and Martyrs that I don’t think I can do either justice. Even with Anna’s final words, I barely feel privileged to speculate because it is so profound and personal and maybe that’s the point. I am not a religious person but I do get the understanding that faith, in whatever its incarnations, is a dialogue and not a discussion. One thing though, both Lucie and Anna have connections with Catholic saints. Saint Lucy is the patron saint of Syracuse in Italy and was martyred. Saint Anne, who was considered the mother of Mary, and is the patron saint of Brittany and Quebec (thank you Wikipedia). Not sure how that fits into the understanding of the film but, yeah.

    Thanks, for putting all the research and insight into the historical and cultural realities that have gone into this film movement, which has been quite influential outside of France particularly in South East Asian horror. For a period in the late 2000s, Thai and Indonesian horror films borrowed heavily from New French Extremity in terms of the violence, the Indonesian film Rumah Darah (House of Blood) has a similar story to Frontiere(s) though much of the social commentary is lacking. How differing cultural expectations transform a film or film movement is not unique to Hollywood.

    • Antonis says:

      I really liked your comment Joshua! I had kind of the same feeling of catharsis at the end of the film. You know, I think a lot of time in horror we don’t feel the violence on an emotional level. But with Martyrs you feel the pain of the characters so much that it’s makes the film not only incredibly brutal but also terribly sad. The scenes with the unnamed victim, the death of Lucy and the abuse of Anna had me on the verge of tears…
      I saw Rumah Darah last year and I hadn’t though of the similarities with Frontier(s). It reminded me more of Texas Chainsaw although there are also some similarities with Martyrs with Martyrs being about a cult of people trying to find the answer about life after death and Rumah Darah being about a cult trying to find immortality.
      Another Asian horror film that might have been influenced by New French Extremity is the 2010 Korean film Bedevilled. I recommend that one. It’s has beautiful cinematography and it also packs a emotional punch

  2. Melissa says:

    I loved this episode SO MUCH!!

    Martyrs is a film I’ve gone back and forth on for quite some time because it scared me more than any film other than The Exorcist (which I watched as a preteen). I could never tell if it was a “good” film because it succeeded it scaring me so much, or if was gratuitous and as sexist as some of its predecessors. I knew it was somehow special because that ending hit me so hard the first time I saw it, which put the whole film up for reevaluation.

    Thank you for making this episode and for giving this film a rewatch for me. You’ve made me see this in a whole new light.

    PS – I always thought Anna tells Mademoiselle that heaven is something so horrific and awful that she cannot bear to live with it. But I dislike religion.

  3. Bjorn says:

    I loved this episode, thanks for doing an episode on one of my favourite movies and introducing me to one I’d never heard of (the latter being Calvaire, of course). And I love how much you emphasize the warmth of Martyrs, especially for a movie so often accused of being nihilist.

    And now you’ve got me wondering about what Anna whispered again. At first I figured (but maybe that’s my personal ideas seeping through) that her last words were something to the effect of “This was it. I loved and I was loved, and that is heaven. The rest is silent. Good work wasting your life on this experiment.” But as someone pointed out, Mademoiselle would be a crap scientist if she killed herself over a negative result that might just as easily have been another failed experiment.

    Of course, there’s also the remote possibility that what she said made the afterlife sound so simple and so great that Mademoiselle couldn’t wait to get there. Maybe the point is that we should consider ourselves lucky to not know. Or maybe the point is that it doesn’t matter what she said; or that our entire culture is based on interpretations of what people have said and done under extreme duress and that that’s a fucked-up way to maintain society. But I like your interpretations too, perhaps I should just do another rewatch.

    Anyway, thanks again for a great podcast and thanks for reminding me how much I love this movie.

  4. Michael Cinelli says:

    Love love your podcast. I just wanted to mention a view on Martyrs that came to mind while listening to your ideas. So it may not be too original but I was thinking of the troubled recent history the French have had with immigration. Also, even though they are very Catholic as a country, they don’t seem spiritual in any sense. If you look at the family and the torturers as traditional French and Anna and Lucy not only as the Other but also a representation of the mysticism that these immigrant cultures bring to France, the movie seems to show the torturers trying in a very clinical way to reach spirituality, or some sort of Nirvana/catharsis without doing any of the work or having the history to support reaching it. If you look at it like that, the her last words to Mademoiselle fit both of your ideas – that M can’t get there or ever know because she is removed from the ordeal to get there. That’s just my two cents on an old (but to me, new) episode. Thanks for getting me thinking every week and I think you are both the best. Cheers from Germany!

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