The Most Assassinated Woman in the World

Hats off to Franck Ribiere, this is probably one of the most sumptuous films to be shown at this year’s festival. The life of Paula Maxa (Anna Mougalis) who was the star of the Grand Guignol Theatre in Paris in the 1930s. This Good Old Days for the bloodthirsty specialised in bizarre stories that led to gratuitously bloody ends - is a complex mix of showmanship horror, artist manipulation and madness.

Paula is a star who is killed every night, in every way imaginable – she recounts the methods at the start of the film. Supported by a few actors and special effects genius they are kept in line by a manipulative empresario. Journalist Jean (Niels Schneider) sniffs about looking for a story that will link the theatre to a series of killings, and that will serve the purpose of the demonstrators outside.

Jean and Paul strike up a friendship and gradually they reveal their issues over a series of flashbacks and hallucinations. This convolutes the story which together with the slow pace and chilly characterisation makes this a difficult film to like on anything other than a technical level, though an incongruous 80’s synth score does soften the edges.

3 stars

Incident in Ghost Land

Another striking film that overwhelms in almost every area is undoubtably wonderful to look at with an astounding sound design. Whether these aesthetics will see people through it another matter as it is at times unrelenting in its brutality and a cycle of violence which is genuinely disturbing.

Pauline (Mylène Farmer) and her two daughters Vera and Beth (Emilia Jones and Taylor Hickson) are on their way to take possession of an isolated house they have inherited. The siblings have been bickering all the way there and their moods are hardly lightened when they arrive to a mess of a house. ‘It’s a flea-market’ as one says with old dolls and other ephemera cluttering up the place.

Settling in they are viciously attacked by a couple hell bent on maximum violence and nothing is going to stop them even as Pauline battles the odds to save them. Moving forward sixteen years and Beth is a successful author married and a mother. Her latest book draws from her nightmare experience all those years ago. Beth then receives a call from a hysterical Vera which leads her to return to the house.

Much more would give too much away suffice to say that all is not what is expected. For all the visceral intensity and sheer malevolence of the violence director Pascal Laugier (Martyrs) goes deeper. There is an intricate relationship between the sisters who have quite different characters. These are set out early on which makes the later psychological trauma and manifestations logical.

Some are going to find this film problematic both with the levels of cruelty and that women are once again on the end of a gruelling terrific experience.

4 stars