Baise Moi

| July 16, 2001

The English language title of this film is Rape Me, but the French original gives off a much cruder vibe. First-time directors Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi tell the story of two young women, Nadine and Manu who accidentally meet at the train station and go on a road trip of sexual adventures and brutal killings. This film caused quite an uproar at Cannes in 2000, and was banned in France after three days of its opening. Every discussion of this movie seems to center on the “apparently unsimulated sex.” One glance at the director’s comments on the movie’s website, however, shows that her relationship with the movie makes for a much more interesting storyline.
For starters, Despentes wrote the story that spawned this movie, and the desire to direct it seems to have grown on her, rather than being a forgone conclusion. With this desire, comes the need to underline her point over and over again. This is what detracts from the good qualities of the movie. The actors playing Nadine (Karen Bach) and Manu (Rafaella Anderson) are real-life porn actresses, and this is probably why they are able to pull off the unimpressed attitude that the girls have towards sex, particularly violent sex. Thi is a porn actress herself. This may have something to do with the sex scenes feeling like today’s feature on your local porn channel rather than an integral part of the film. Despentes describes herself as a “feminist warrior” and is almost defensive about her right to use so much explicit violence on screen. I thought we were done with this discussion of what women can and cannot show in their movies! Unfortunately, if you play the movie over in your mind while reading Despentes’s comments, it seems like this is a “if boys can do it, girls can do it too” take on a Tarantino flick, sex of course being a girl’s most powerful weapon.
For most of the movie the sex is independent of the violence, and this actually diminishes the Tarantino effect. In fact, when someone comments on the senseless quality of their violence, Manu replies that they killed for money. Sex, as she says earlier, is something that helps you stop thinking for a while and sleep better. It is this matter-of-fact approach that makes the film attractive. Of course the killings are random: murder tends not to be justifiable (but maybe, that’s a whole other issue). But both girls have killed before the journey starts, and they have nowhere to go but down. Might as well enjoy yourself on the way there! Besides, they generally kill to survive. The rampage in a sex club however does away with this mindset, and we are back to the boys-versus-girls scenario.
Anderson and Bach manage to do a pretty god job in the backdrop of Despentes’s obsession with proving herself. At the start of the movie, when we catch a glimpse of the issues in each girl’s life, which may have driven them to this sexed-up Thelma And Louise escapade, Nadine’s character feels underdeveloped (the multiple close-ups don’t really help). Her roommate–the source of at least some of her problems–seems unreal. Manu, on the other hand, has a gritty nonwhite existence, and the audience starts to think that this may be now be the face of France, rather than Catherine Deneuve. As the film proceeds, however, Manu gets more and more hysterical, while Nadine becomes more of a flesh-and-blood person. In fact, you start to identify with Nadine, juxtaposed against Manu’s theatrics.
The bottom line is that unlike the other super-hyped movies I’ve seen recently, this movie is actually quite good. But if you can’t stomach the gore and the cum, don’t see it. Some creative editing can actually make the film better: a much more economic use of both sex and violence could have had the same impact since the storyline actually holds water. For example, when Manu and Nadine dance in their underwear in their hotel room, the atmosphere is both erotic and liberating enough to raise a big hurrah for girl power. On the other hand, maybe you just need more in a French movie to shock anyone…

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