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Controversial director Philippe Grandrieux is coming to the University of Chicago

Written by
Michael Smith

This week, the University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center will host what is sure to be one of the most exciting local film events of the year. Maverick French writer/director Philippe Grandrieux will be on-hand to screen and discuss three of his films: Un Lac (2008), White Epilepsy (2012) and Malgre la nuit (2015) this Friday and Saturday.

Grandrieux’s penchant for de-centered narratives and disturbing subject matter (i.e., prostitution and sexual violence) have polarized audiences around the world, but his approach has also won him a legion of admirers among adventurous filmgoers and prominent film critics.

Malgre la nuit is Grandrieux’s most accessible work. Reminiscent of Claire Denis’s Bastards, the plot concerns an Englishman traveling to Paris in search of his missing girlfriend. His journey leads him into a shady underworld of porn and prostitution rings, where he becomes involved with a masochistic nurse (Ariane Labed) and an exotic singer (Roxane Mesquida). On the opposite end of the spectrum is the non-narrative White Epilepsy, my favorite of Grandrieux’s features. In a wordless 68 minutes, a naked man and woman slowly grapple with one another in a dark forest. Superbly choreographed (Are they wrestling? Are they dancing?) and genuinely frightening, White Epilepsy resembles a Francis Bacon painting come to life.

Un Lac falls in between these extremes as a dreamlike portrait of an isolated family living in a remote forest. The arrival of a foreign woodcutter destabilizes their incestuous balance. The story unfolds like a haunting myth lost in time.

The opening night screening of Un Lac will be followed by a discussion between Grandrieux and critic Raymond Bellour. For more information on Grandrieux’s residency at the University of Chicago, including ticket info and showtimes, visit the Film Studies Center’s website

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