10 Controversial French Movies

Sunday, April 10 by William Gish

These 10 controversial French films are bound to offend someone. Those who prefer films without graphic violence, nudity, rape and explicit themes of female sexuality and religious subjectivity should look elsewhere. Warning: spoilers.

  1. “Last Tango in Paris” didn’t just mix a classic Hollywood love story with graphic sexual content generally reserved for smut pictures, it did so with a top director (Bernardo Bertolucci) and one of the biggest movie stars around (Marlon Brando). Told with empathy and sadness, the tale of a doomed affair littered with graphic nudity is as good as it was controversial upon its release.
  2. “Hail Mary” was denounced by none other than the Pope. Forget ratings boards. Forget film censors. This Jean-Luc Godard film was smote by God. The reason being it’s an update of the tale of the Virgin Mary. Godard’s examination of religion in the modern world angered viewers enough that one Christian threw a pie in the filmmaker’s face. Regardless of that, it’s a sad and very good tale of a young woman caught in a world of indifferent men.
  3. “Baise Moi” churned up quite the storm upon its release. This controversial French film features a gang rape, extremely graphic sexual content and a number of brutal killings. Unfortunately, like its American counterpart “Natural Born Killers,” “Basie Moi” is ultimately pretentious drivel pretending it has something important to say.
  4. “A Real Young Girl” is a controversial French movie from 1976 that examines the sexual awakening and fantasies of a 14-year-old girl. The film is poetic and beautiful in addition to being sexually graphic to the point of having female genitalia on full display. It is refreshing it is portrayal of sexuality from a female perspective.
  5. “Irreversible” is a graphic, disturbing and unflinching portrait of rape and revenge. The film stars real-life couple Vincent Cassel and Monica Belluci as husband and wife. The film is told backwards; it opens with Cassel beating someone to death with a fire extinguisher in a bondage club and ends with climaxes with the rape and beating of Bellucci. 
  6. “Romance” is a French film controversial for, surprise, its sex scenes. The film feature the acting talents of porn star Rocco Siffredi and has a number of unsimulated sex scenes. “Romance” follows a young woman on a journey through which she tests the limits of her sexuality through a number of acts she finds both empowering and liberating.  
  7. “Man Bites Dog” is technically Belgian, but it’s in French, which qualifies it as a controversial French movie for these purposes. It’s a farcical mockumentary about a charming serial killer who woos the camera crew with his wit and intelligence to the point of their becoming involved in his increasingly demented killings. “Man Bites Dog” is disturbing and hilarious.
  8. “Les Amants” is a pretty tame story of adultery and love that nevertheless incited an obscenity case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court in the United States. This French film was directed by the 25-year-old Louis Malle, the film adopts ambiguous moral attitudes by neither condemning nor applauding the actions of its characters.
  9. “Inside” is only controversial in certain circles because, well, most people have never heard of it. For those of us who have, however…well, suffice it to say, the film involves a pregnant woman who is prevented from going to the hospital to give birth by a demented older woman who brutally murders anyone who attempts to rescue the pregnant woman, while torturing her.
  10. “The Dreamers” is another Bertolucci film controversial for a number of reasons, chief among which is its graphic sexuality. The film uses the Paris student uprisings of 1969 as a means of exploring sexual awakening and the onslaught of adulthood in late adolescence. Rated NC-17 for its multitudinous genital shots, the film is anything but exploitative.