New French Extremity films are not kind to their women. At all. These women often endure abuses so vile and degrading – bodily, mentally, emotionally – that they’re uncomfortable to watch. Frontier(s) is no different. For an hour and forty-eight minutes, we’re dared to not look away as we watch Yasmine (Karina Testa) and her group of fellow criminals endure torture at the hands of a family of sadistic Nazis. What is different? The sly way that this film punishes its men for their transgressions against women. This one does after the male tormentor hard, demonstrating that despite its need to abuse and demean the female characters (and assert their dominance), it has a compulsion to exact revenge in the honor of these same women.
Let’s examine these punishments, beginning with Tom. Tom is a complete cunt. He’s heartless in his regard for Sami’s injury, writing him off as dead in front of the still-living man. Later, we see him threaten Farid with rape in the car, yelling at him, “Get out or I’ll fuck you!” only to turn around a few moments later with the sharp, chastising, “I pushed you a little and you acted like a wimp.” He also uses the term “virgin” as an insult to Farid, snapping into focus that he uses sexual insult against those he wishes to dominate. This also sets the stage for the great transgression that ultimately gets Tom tortured and killed: he’s happy to have sex with Gilberte (Estelle Lefébure), but when she refuses sex to care for her mother, he refers to her as a whore in front of her family. He then retreats to his room and further rants about “that bitch” and cuts her down with the insult, “her pussy didn’t smell good.” She was good enough to fuck, but when Gilberte didn’t give him sex when he demanded it, Tom felt the need to demean her; as a woman, I’ve seen it happen more times that I care to admit. Karl (Patrick Ligardes) then comes into Tom and Farid’s room to question why they’re at the hostel, focusing on Tom and revealing rage at the insults against Gilberte. The events that quickly transpire work to cut him down a peg: Tom has his fingers blown off by a gun blast; he’s injured severely and moans about his pain to Farid; he cries for his mother while trapped in the tunnel. In a telling turn, Farid calls him a faggot to get him to keep moving, effectively completing the transition from dominator to dominated. That he is then further bodily tortured – arguably the most prolonged and worst death of the group – demonstrates that writer/director Xavier Gens made an example of Tom. Tom is a horrible warning against acting like a complete and utter douche in a need to assert masculine dominance.
The other men in the group all meet death in accordance to how they’ve treated women, especially Yasmine. Sami dies after reinforcing notions of family with the pregnant sister who nursed him. That Sami is not subjected to the cannibalistic family is more of a blessing than anyone realizes. Alex, for his part, attempts to help Yasmine escape the confines of the pig pen, only to have his Achilles tendons cut in an incredibly chilling scene (points to Gens for the mood he created with that one). His act of sacrifice and chivalry was rewarded with the granting of a quick death at his request, a far more merciful end as opposed to other men in the film. As for Farid, he is viewed as weak throughout his time in the film: he allows Tom to call the shots without question (including selling Yasmine out to the cops), he cheats on his girlfriend in an act that can be equated to sexual assault, and he uses the same dehumanizing verbal abuse to spur on his injured friend. For this, Farid is cooked, shot in the head, and served as dinner. Because he just goes along with whatever is dealt to him, the implication is that he lacks the capacity to think and is therefore treated as livestock. Livestock won’t defend the women or stand up for itself.
Turning to the Von Geisler family, the men all meet their demise after directly violating some aspect of Yasmine’s agency. Von Geisler informs Yasmine of her expected role as the new broodmare of the family, despite that “she’s not pure.” When he tells Yasmine of the fate of her unborn child – the latest in a line of Nazis, who von Geisler refers to with a masculine pronoun – she hisses at him, “He will be nothing,” a direct reference with her plan to follow through with her abortion. That she pulls a knife on him and uses him as a shield during a shootout (which kills him) speaks more so to her fight to preserve the right over what happens to her body. Hans is killed in the crossfire after shooting at her in a type of eye-for-an-eye justice. Goetz, meanwhile, chases her into the storage/slaughterhouse area and rages on about his place in the family – he should be the one in charge, people listen to him, he’s the one that runs the front. He calls her a slut multiple times and slams her on the table in a scene that made me wonder if he was going to rape her to demonstrate how powerful he thought he was. Instead, Yasmine unleashes her inner rage and saws his head in half. As for her new “husband” Karl, he does succeed in beating Yasmine pretty badly; however, she is saved from death by Eva, the abused, brainwashed, pregnant young woman with an affinity for caring for others (going so far as to reiterate that she “can’t abandon my children” multiple times throughout the film). Getting your head blown off as you’re about to murder a freshly-beaten pregnant woman is a pretty scathing indictment of these actions.
While Klaudia and Gilberte are punished with death as well, their actions and attributes are a bit more masculine, placing them on par with the men and their need for dominance. They actively participate in the baiting process. They hold Alex down during his tendon-cutting. They shoot at Yasmine as she makes a break for freedom. In essence, they seek to assign Yasmine to her new role in the family, and wish to strip her of autonomy. They are punished with explosions and throat-tearing, respectively. In short, they are doled out the same punishments as their male counterparts, marking them as masculine in this venture. What’s curious is that Eva – simple Eva, the girl who is carrying her fourth pregnancy after producing deformed children – is the one that lives at the end of all of this. It is her anchored role as caring mother to rejected children and merciful deus ex machina to Yasmine that keeps her alive.
At the beginning of the film, Yasmine states, “Men are born with free equal rights.” Considering that she has to fight for her autonomy – both mental and physical – this statement becomes less about civil rights of all than it does about her need to rise above the men that are keeping her down. Think about this for a moment: Yasmine does not connect to her unborn child until the very end of this film, when she touches her belly as she drives away from the hostel. Up until that point, Yasmine was going to have her abortion. “I’ve decided to spare him the worst,”she says at the beginning. Yasmine needed to fight for her right to make that decision. And Gens made sure that the men that abused women in this film were punished when they attempted to interfere with those rights.