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Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 06.37.36I love the films of Jacques Audiard – Rust & Bone, A Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped and most recently Dheepan – though they also trouble me. Often in his films the hero has a moment of ecstasy or transcendence through violence. Violence is glamorized, aestheticized, even sacralized – moments of ultra-violence are moments of redemption for the hero, as in the bloody showdown at the end of Dheepan. Violence is also eroticized – it tends to make the male hero more attractive in the eyes of the heroine, as in the finale of Dheepan, or the scenes in Rust & Bone where the heroine watches the hero bare-knuckle boxing and is turned on. Real men fight and kill.

All this is problematic. And yet the movies are not simply unthinking celebrations of heroic violence, like say Die Hard or 90% of other action movies. To tell the truth, I can’t quite work out their attitude – Audiard’s attitude – to the violence he depicts. I can’t work out if he’s sincerely heroizing it, or rather if he’s drawing our attention to how we culturally heroize violence, and making us think about that. I think the former – I think he is genuinely heroizing violence and suggesting it makes us men.

This clip, from A Prophet, is typical of his ecstatic violence. The film is about a young Arab immigrant in France, who rises up from being a nobody in prison to basically running it. He has an aura of providence or grace around him, as in this moment where the bullets miraculously miss him. His smile of bliss in the midst of violence is actually quite a realistic portrayal of many soldiers’ ecstatic response to war.  But what should our attitude be to the violence? Should we also find it a blissful narcotic?