After Benedetta, here are 7 more freaky French films about sex

Did the lesbian nun thriller leave you wanting more? Check out these equally fucked up underground offerings.

by Steph Green
15 April 2022, 7:00am

There are many things the French are known for: nicotine-stained nonchalance, la gastronomie, and — if Gal Gadot were narrating — “enough wine… to fill the Seine!” Tricky interactions with sexism, sex and seduction are ingrained in Gallic culture, so it’s little surprise that French cinema (sorry, cinéma) has never been too shy about getting weird when it comes to sex. 

The popular idea that French films are “pretentious” often belies their radical approach to sex, which is often a world away from the staid puritanism of our British or American counterparts. Just look at their latest offerings, from nerve-shredding cyberpunk horror Titane to Paul Verhoeven’s latest “sapphic nun fuck fest”, Benedetta. New French Extremity, body horror, avant-garde, neo-noir, erotica: the French deal in countless cinematic sub-genres that depict transgression and taboo.

With a bounty of cult and underground offerings as a result, we’ve narrowed down the lewd and the lurid into a neat list of seven freaky French classics.

1. Maîtresse (1975)

In Maîtresse, Gérard Depardieu (the undisputed daddy of French cinema) had one of his earliest leading roles as Olivier, a strapping burglar who unwittingly breaks into dominatrix Ariane’s (Bulle Ogier) sex dungeon. These things happen, je suppose. As the two become lovers, it’s Olivier’s toxic masculinity that feels more distasteful to the viewer more than anything else (including Ariane’s raunchy scenes with her subs).

In Karl Lagerfeld-designed dominatrix costumes — corsets and catsuits in leather, satin and sequins — Bulle gives us some of the most iconic looks French film has to offer. While these days we’re less shocked by BDSM than we would have been back in 1975, there are still transgressive moments here for modern audiences, whether it’s animal slaughter, piss-play, or a (notably unsimulated) scene where Ariane nails someone’s scrotum to a piece of wood. Unsurprisingly, prudish British censors refused to pass the uncut version for public viewing until 2003. Good thing we’re living in 2022 now, baby!

2. Fascination (1979)

A cult of sapphic, blood-drinking vampires in Belle Époque France, luring hapless men to a castle and seductively tormenting them? Don’t threaten us with a good time! Jean Rollin — who interchangeably directed hardcore adult movies in his career — was renowned for his erotic horror movies of the fantastique genre, and this is one of his most highly-regarded.

The film was also an early mainstream role for adult actress Brigitte Lahaie; her murderous, scythe-wielding rampage is one of Fascination’s most memorable scenes. With low-budget seediness and a Gallic frankness towards sex and nudity, it’s a veritable verging-on-camp romp.

3. Pola X (1999)

Before Leos Carax was performing the public service of putting out Annette, and thus giving us Adam Driver’s singing cunnilingus scene, he wrote and directed this disturbing gem. It’s a story about the psychosexual malaise that lurks in the darkest recesses of the mind: we follow protagonist Pierre (Guillaume Depardieu) as he meets a spooky figure in the forest who claims to be his sister, and later tells the tale of their nomadic stint in Paris, laden with poverty, incest and eventual murder. 

4. Baise-Moi (2000)

People are pretty split on the rape-revenge genre in general — and chances are that Baise-Moi would be even more divisive if it were more widely known. It sees two women, an adult actress and a sex worker, growing increasingly fed up with men and choosing instead to “let rip the motherfucker side of our soul.” Mood. As they embark on an odyssey of explicit sex and suitably gory murder, the film plays out as if an old VHS of Thelma and Louise fell into a black hole and emerged as a manifesto of pixelated female rage.

5. Fat Girl (2001)

As a filmmaker, Catherine Breillat made it her mission to normalise, or at least surface, topics previously seen as taboo. Fat Girl – which examines the social and sexual rivalry between a thin, pretty 15-year-old and her plumper younger sister – is no different. There are uncomfortable scenes here, ones that discombobulate the viewer with their knotty stance on desire, brutality and shame. But in an age where people are obsessed with judging a film’s merits based on how morally sound they deem its message, Fat Girl feels particularly transgressive. The Evening Standard writes of the “twisted and perverted perspective of this woman filmmaker […] graphic and repugnant,” if you needed another endorsement.

6. Irréversible (2002)

Arthouse perfection for some and edgelord provocation to others, Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible is considered one of the most uncomfortable films to ever be experienced: in the first thirty minutes, the director opted to include a 28 Hz low-frequency background sound, which causes nausea and dizziness. 

Starring Vincent Cassel as a misguided vigilante bent on avenging the rape of his girlfriend (Monica Belucci), it examines how sex, as an act, can equally bisect into life-giving joy and nihilistic terror. Noé’s camera tumbles and rotates to stomach-churning effect; combined with the nightmarish red glow, it’s like he’s just dropped his camera down the concentric circles of hell. 

7. Demonlover (2002)

This globetrotting thriller — about various factions fighting to control a new form of 3-D hentai porn, co-starring everyone’s favourite early-00s style sweetheart, Chloë Sevigny — acutely captures y2k anxieties about the dark web, on top of giving us this timeless Gina Gershon look. Cut-throat and anti-capitalist, things only get nastier for protagonist Diane (Connie Nielsen) as she goes from ruthless corporate climber to an unwitting participant in an interactive torture site. Between all the sex slaves, espionage and cryptic seductions, it’s the pitch-black ending that’ll really get you taping over your webcam and going off-grid.

Follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more on movies.

erotic thrillers