Tous les Dieux du Ciel (All the Gods in the Sky), from French director Quarxxx, is an incredibly bold piece of genre filmmaking and a spellbinding debut to boot. Nodding carefully to the surrealist likes of David Lynch, the body horror of David Cronenberg, the unfathomable terror of Lovecraft, and the stark realism of the New French Extremity, Quarxxx throws his lot in with a rising new age of Euro Nasty. It’s a gorgeously made dark poem of a film with more complex genre ties than it first entices.
Simon (Thierry Fremont) is a middle-aged man who cares for his bedridden sister, Estelle (Malanie Gaydos) at their dilapidated farmhouse. Between working at a local factory and fighting with medical professionals who want to take custody of Estelle, Simon falls prey to intense visions of a celestial power he believes will save them both.
The New French Extremity incorporated films like Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs and Alexandre Aja’s Switchblade Romance. These films updated classic horror tropes with savvy self-aware storylines and new kinds of villains, all whilst staging some of the most grotesque and intensely “real” gore in modern horror cinema. These films often hide genre commentary beneath the veneer of nihilistic violence and degradation.
Tous les Dieux du Ciel, pulls a similar trick without the savage gore. It’s confrontation with sidelined people does more than any kind of dismemberment could. The film’s nastiest scene, its big “taboo” moment (two young children play with a loaded gun and it goes off) arrives within the first five minutes and from there Quarxxx delves into the very real lives its two outsiders face. In some ways you could see it as a kind of post-horror, horror film. It’s more focused on building a mood and telling a story than it is in trying to scare us. Tous les Dieux Ciel a pointed change from films like Martyrs which only get more graphic as they go on.
Fremont is incredible, and breathes quiet desperate power and absolute dedication into a very tough role. Simon is after all, the closest thing to a villain in the whole film, but he’s also our point of contact for most of the film, and its anti-hero at numerous points. We can never understand the burden he carries, but Quarxxx has a point to make here. The Lovecraftian touches are there to highlight the unfathomable nature of other people’s minds, especially neuro-atypcal people. Quarxxx is interested in showing us how mental health directly intervenes in day to day life and the film’s surrealism helps do that without exoticizing or demonizing.
Quarxx sets himself aside from extremity by ensuring he never exploits gore gags, or takes pleasure in insidious moments of degradation. There’s no “torture porn” so to speak, but the story is hard-wired to hit you in the gut nonetheless. In this way, it shares a shelf with similarly empathetic psychological thrillers like Paul Wright’s For Those in Peril and Mathew Holness’ Possum. These films’ central characters are questionable, but never abandoned or vilified by the film itself.
In Tous les Dieux du Ciel, Quarxxx has crafted a singular piece of genre cinema: a contemporary Euro Gothic with roots in the French New Wave and New French Extremity. Quarxxx’s style entices with mercurial vibrancy and ethereal surrealism, bringing to life the harsh realities and disorientating fantasies of its central characters. One second, the film can disarm with its tenderness, and then just as easily, it can actualize nightmares the audience won’t foresee.
Tous les Dieux du Ciel is an entrancing, unsettling experience and perhaps the boldest film in the latest explosion of Euro-Horror.
Stars. Jean-Luc Couchard, Melanie Gaydos, Zelie Rixhon, Thierry Fremont, Albert Delpy,