Martyrs (2008)

written and directed by pascal laugier
eskwad/wild bunch/tcb film/canal+/cinÉcinÉma

After this film finally ended, I started writing a polemic on what I condemned as its senseless brutality, its transgressive excesses flaunted purely for their own sake, its purposeless exhibition of sickening abuse, its obscenity.

Morning found me still pondering what I’d seen, contemplating the motive behind the disturbing displays, so I read a lot about it, including an enlightening interview with the director. Along the way, I realized a positive critical appraisal of “New French Extremity” films, several of which I’d enjoyed, had suckered me into seeing a picture I’d scrupulously avoided for a decade,

Martyrs is a vile movie, full of sadistic horrors and irredeemable suffering and graphically unsettling trauma and grievous bodily harm inflicted upon a guileless young woman. The first half is only intermittently assaultive – nothing too out of the ordinary – but as the second half began, I had a sinking feeling, which proved prescient. It definitely goes too far, and it’s hard to find justification for what occurs. What reason could there be for grotesquely prolonged images of torture of an innocent, you might wonder.

The Laugier interview helped. Some things are indelible, though.

why did i watch this movie?

Mea culpa. I tend to favor productions that feature people doing horrible things to others. This selection has me questioning myself.

should you watch this movie?

Look, this picture’s culminating moment is a woman being flayed alive … but by that point the savagery inflicted upon her has been so objectionable it may barely register. You have been warned.

highlight and low point

It’s provocative, I’ll give it that. As to my charge of “obscenity,” French film commissars originally concurred, rating it 18+, though it was lowered to 16+ after intervention from a filmmakers society, a journalists’ union and the Minister of Culture.

rating from outer space: B

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