Cinema of cruelty, cinema of the absurd, cinema of extreme situations—French filmmaker Georges Franju (1912–1987) combined them all in a cinema of bile. A surrealist fellow traveler and a youthful cinephile (he co-founded the Cinémathèque Française), Franju was drawn to taboo material and social violence, with a personality to fit the crime. (The English critic Ian Sinclair described him as “a man of torrential vehemence, spitting out excremental expletives like a tracer-stream of olive pits.”)
Franju’s first movie, the short documentary Blood of the Beasts (1949), turns a trip to a Paris slaughterhouse into a tour of the underworld (as well as a poetic allegory of French World War II collaboration) that’s as gently shattering as any trip in cinema. No less poetic and nearly as awe-inspiring is the surgical horror flick Eyes Without a Face (1960). Franju’s greatest film, originally released here dubbed and mangled as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, is a meditation on atrocity that’s fully as scarifying as its contemporaries Psycho and Peeping Tom, and perhaps even more resonant in its evocation of historical evils.
Anthology Film Archives’ survey Le Grand Franju opens Friday with Franju’s 1959 Head Against the Wall, an account of rebellion and delusion inside a mental hospital that serves as an appetizer for Eyes Without a Face. Other, more rarely seen features include Franju’s Thérèse Desqueyroux (1962), a murderous gloss on Madame Bovary, actually adapted from François Mauriac and starring Emmanuelle Riva, and his nostalgic homage to Louis Feuillade’s silent serials, Judex (1963). The documentary program acknowledges both sides of Franju’s sensibility—the bilious Blood of the Beasts and Hôtel des Invalides (1952) are matched with his affectionate tributes to the film pioneer George Méliès, Le Grand Méliès (1952), and the Paris metro, La Première Nuit (1958). March 14 through 19, Anthology Film Archives.
Also: An equally outré figure, as well as the undisputed aesthetic godfather of Korea’s extreme art cinema, Kim Ki-young (1919–1998) might be Franju’s Korean cousin. Infernal Machines, Kim’s first New York retrospective, also highlights his affinities to Luis Buñuel and Sam Fuller as a master of violent melodrama, cheesy excess, and B-movie expressionism. Routinely trafficking in tales of sometimes-censored frustrated desire—Transgression, The Insect Woman, Carnivore, Promise of the Flesh are sample titles—Kim began his career at the center of South Korea’s film industry and doggedly worked his way toward the margins. The Housemaid (1960), his greatest hit and a movie he remade twice, is a sordid succubus story that starts at a fever pitch and accelerates, seemingly directed in a state of psychosexual frenzy. Kim made 31 movies between 1955 and 1984. Most of the retro’s 12 movies have never been screened here. Several of the earliest—the period pieces Yangsan Province (1955) and Goryeo Jang (1963)—are the only prints in existence. March 12 through 18, Walter Reade Theater.