If you are a fan of bleak, depressing cinema, there is a whole range of interesting films you could watch. There are the realistic attempts of Haneke, you could try the stylized madness of Aronofski or you could dig deeper and immerse yourself in the vileness of Gaspar Noé. Maybe try some late Moodysson to push the boundaries. You won't walk away refreshed from any of these directors.
And then there is A New Life [La Vie Nouvelle].
I've seen my fair share of depressing movies but little dare come near the territory where A New Life resides. The closest comparison to make is Irréversible's Rectum scene expanded to a full 100 minutes. Grandrieux doesn't make it easy for those watching his film. Little dialogue is used and the background story is sketchy at best. Hardly any information reaches the viewer of the things he is witnessing, yet this is largely unimportant to understand the core of the film.
A lot of the film's punch comes from the darkened visuals. Not a single bright, positive color is seen throughout the film. Everything is shot in saturated, bleak colors, leaving little to no sign of hope. As the film progresses, the camera work becomes more and more frantic, positioning itself close to the actors and serving the viewer a mess of blurry shapes and suggestive images. Many shots are out of focus and often people are only visible as dark outlines against muddy backgrounds.
Aside from the visuals, the soundtrack is just as dirty as the images. There is hardly any dialogue and quite a few scenes are simply silent. Sometimes this silence is disturbed by creepy illbient and muffled sounds. Later in the film, more and more rhythmic electronic sounds enter the film. And to top that, Grandrieux plays nasty tricks with the volume to increase the ill effect.
This nightmarish atmosphere climaxes in an inverted black and white scene. Shots of agonized faces, screaming mouths and mud-covered, crawling bodies are accompanied by distorted screams and brooding illbient music. The moment Grandrieux cranks up the volume this scene becomes immortal.
There's little story to be followed, and even if there was I really didn't care much for it. The movie is set in the underground and has no shame in showing the worst side of human kind. Sexual abuse, physical violence and power struggles dominate the movie, although in terms of actual perversities the film is not all that shocking.
A New Life is not a film that is fun to watch. But it is an impressive film that succeeds as no other in putting down a vile, bleak and uneasy atmosphere. Some parts of the movie were hard to sit through, even repulsive and just felt wrong. Which is something I haven't felt in a long time, and I don't think I've ever felt it as strongly in a film before.
This feeling is not something everyone will appreciate, but if you're looking for a depressing film which will sucker punch you across the room, you can't find much better than this one. It will be one of those films I need to own on DVD to never watch it again.