Frontier(s). 2007. Directed & Written by Xavier Gens.
Starring Karina Testa, Samuel Le Bihan, Estelle Lefébure, Aurélien Wiik, David Saracino, Chems Dahmani, Maud Forget, Amélie Daure, Rosine Favey, Adel Bencherif, Joël Lefrançois, Patrick Ligardes, and Jean-Pierre Jorris. Cartel Productions.
Rated NC-17. 108 minutes.
A rise in right-wing nationalism inspired/depressed Xavier Gens enough to write Frontier(s). Its plot is a horror microcosm of the aftermath of a fictional Parisian election – inspired by Jean-Marie Le Pen and the National Front gaining nearly 17% of the vote during the 2002 French elections – as four young Muslims are trapped on the property of a family of neo-Nazis, not unlike citizens stuck at the whims of right-wing politicians unconcerned with their best interests, or even their humanity.
Gens is able to touch a nerve, apart from his focus on brutal horror. His story involves a crossing over of power from an ideological state into a bodily state. This is where the national politics of imaginary borders encroaches on the boundaries – or frontiers – of the individual body. Not to mention Gens focuses on the Gothic past of France, in relation to the ghosts of WWII, the Holocaust, and the occupation of the country by Nazi forces. This story refuses to let go of the past, because as William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It‘s not even past.”
What’s scariest to Father Gore about Frontier(s) is, even given the inspiration from the National Front’s push for power in 2002, there’s a prescient sense of warning. Even since 2007 when the movie was shot, and 2008 when it was released, white nationalism has spread, not just in France— all across the Western world, a continual knee jerk reaction against immigration + liberal border policies. This might actually do better if released today than 10 years ago, if only because the terror is all the more palpable for marginalised communities in 2018.
“We’re still in France, here?”
“We’re in the Middle Ages”
The political landscape of a far-right leaning society is well expressed by Gens through physical landscape itself, evoking ghosts of Nazi occupied France, plus visuals referencing WWII and Nazi imagery. Firstly, the fact the movie was shot primarily in the Val-d’Oise region of France is of significance. This is around the area where two camps which played parts in the Holocaust existed: Aincourt, the first internment camp of the Northern Zone (1940), where many members of the French Communist Party were imprisoned, and Linas-Montlhéry, where the Romani people were sent.
Secondly, Gens uses imagery and language to conjure up the Holocaust, further entrenching us in a political narrative. There’s a shot (above) of a barbed wire fence, a grey background on which sits several structures, which could easily pass as an old photograph of the vacant French fields leftover following WIII. Later, one character is locked inside a steam room to die— not difficult to parallel visually with the idea of Jews (gays/lesbians/Romani/etc) being funnelled into showers, locked inside, and subjected to death by gas. The patriarch of the Von Geisler family further makes reference to Auschwitz and other concentration camps when he tells one of the Muslim men, while cutting his Achilles tendons: “Arbeit macht frei.” This is the chilling slogan “work makes you free” placed at the entrance of several camps during the Holocaust. The arrival of a couple of the Muslim characters at the Von Geisler inn – located at an old mine site – also evokes imagery of video footage from concentration camps, passing through large archways and crossing boundaries, entering a horrible place demarcating a space of laws v. a space of disorder.
This concept of boundaries is critical to Frontier(s). Like many horror movies, Gens envisions the city as a space governed by law and order, and the rural as a space lacking in laws, where votes, one way or another, no longer matter. Even in the aftermath of this fictional election, there’s a relative safety in the city. Outside its boundaries exist all the old ways of living, the Gothic past of France’s WWII horrors, where nationalist attitudes thrive unchecked by the social life of cities. Rural France here is where neo-fascism lies in wait, occasionally trickling into urban space. It’s never gone away, only festered in these hidden rural spaces. Such is the case of the Von Geisler clan, who’ve bred generations of a hateful, white nationalist family, and they’ve never been forced to reckon with modernity. All the mutant/inbred kids left in the mine themselves become symbols of the generations post-WWII who’ve existed in the shadow of the country’s history concerning the Holocaust. For years, France denied their role, particularly when it comes to the 1942 roundup by the police, resulting in over 10,000 Jews being deported to Germany. It’s not insignificant these mine kids are forgotten, purposely hidden in the subterranean areas of the landscape. They represent the country’s wilful shrouding of history for over half a century.
“Spirit is a bone”
Where the true horror of Frontier(s) lies is in the body, symbolised in the struggle of Yasmine (Karina Testa). She’s already pregnant, though not planning to keep it. This is a significant, scary situation when she’s trapped by the neo-Nazi Van Geisler family, who want to carry on their family line and decide on making her keep the baby. Here is the crossover of political ideology into physical reality for, specifically, women. Although it also involves anxieties of other marginalised communities, such as Muslims and people of colour. White nationalists and neo-Nazis are concerned with imaginary borders being crossed, whereas their social/economic/healthcare policies involve real bodily border crossings and violations for women, Muslims, and POC.
Ideology, in power, severs the boundary between politics and the body, violating normal conceptions of borders in a physical/human sense. Today, people often tell these groups to calm down when they’re upset by extreme policies adopted by Republicans in the era of Trump, not understanding fear of far-right policy is, for the marginalised, fear of the body’s frontiers being reduced, violated, and even totally annihilated. The perfect epitome of political ideology violating the body, especially in regards to the movie’s plot? Nazi eugenics. So, as the national body is infiltrated, as is the body of the individual.
An eerie scene involving another image evocative of Nazi Germany and Nazi occupied France occurs when Yasmine is prepared for her new life at the inn. She’s taken upstairs and has her head shaved. Normally, this would act as a dehumanising ritual for any regular horror movie. It’s more than that for its connections to WWII. There are several threads here: 1) Holocaust victims having their hair shaved off upon admittance to a camp; 2) men in the French Resistance shaved the heads of women who collaborated with their enemies; and, finally, 3) Nazis shaved the heads of German women suspected to have slept with non-Aryans/foreign prisoners. Thus, seeing Yasmine have her head shaved parallels several instances related to the Gothic past of France’s WWII terrors.
Frontier(s) wields such power by illustrating how the boundaries of the body are horrifically violated by politics and ideology, as well as how, despite the state of the city, the rural is often a space more unsafe, lying beyond boundaries of law and order in urban spaces. The movie deals in geographical frontiers, cultural frontiers, and particularly the frontier of bodies. Yasmine serves as the core of the story— it’s her struggle which ultimately defines the central themes, and her last, bloody stand becomes a violent refutation of far-right ideologies.
A violation of body mirrors the sociopolitical horrors of an extreme right-wing value system, where people of colour, Muslims, women(etc) are physically forced into conformity. This is an ever present situation for these groups, one somehow getting worse in 2018 as opposed to better the further we move through modernity. Many white people want to convince themselves this isn’t the case. America, France, and Germany have proved in the past several years the marginalised body is always at risk.
We can take Frontier(s) at face value— a hardcore, NC-17 horror flick. We can also dig deeper, looking at what Gens hopes to convey: we can’t take the position that politics are removed from the individual and the body. If we do, we leave vulnerable communities amongst us at serious corporeal risk. We also ignorantly disregard the ghosts of our past which, time and time again, has verified ideology can invade the body to various brutal lengths.