Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Baise-Moi belongs to the wave of French movies that make use of extremely graphic sex and violence. While I don't necessarily love all these films, I respect the filmmakers behind them for trying to push the boundaries of what's possible with the medium. Watching Irreversible is a totally unique experience, one that really challenges you as a viewer, and though I don't think Baise-Moi is as good on the whole, but it is similarly powerful in the way it breaks you out of typical viewing patterns.

Reading about the film, I've seen people criticize it for being excessive, yet the excessive style is the entire point of the film. If you tell this story in a typical Hollywood, or even indie, way, it's no different from something like Thelma and Louise. That's a fine film, but I think we've seen the two people go on a rampage thing enough times. What makes this different is the realism, manifested in a number of ways.

The most obvious is the sex. It's jarring to watch a rape scene that is an actual recorded sex act. Even if it's not actual rape, there's a realism to the moment that is difficult to watch. I think the staged rape in Irreversible is still more jarring, but what we have here is a powerful, confrontational scene. One of the most disturbing things about the scene is Manu's reaction, barely even caring. I think the core of the film can be found in her speech, when she says that she says that she has nothing valuable in her 'cunt,' so all she got was some dick.

It's so different from what we've been conditioned to expect from a rape scene, that the woman be made into a victim, presumably setting up a male revenge scenario. I love the scene where Manu rebukes her boyfriend for caring more about getting revenge than how she feels. She is taking this violent act and reclaiming it, using it as a chance to divorce herself from a male-dominated society, reassert her authority. Because she is a porn star, the actual physical act of being raped is less effecting than the total loss of power she suffered. So, she sets out to reclaim that power and assert a new, more powerful identity.

Concurrently, we follow Nadine, who has also commodified her sexuality. She draws a line between her work, which is satisfying men, and her pleasure, which is satisfying herself. There doesn't seem to be a direct connection between the two, what Manu offers is the chance to use men in the way that they used her previously. Together, the two of them leave behind all the conventions and restrictions of society, using the world as a device to give themselves pleasure. So, the essence of the film is that these women who have been exploited all their lives are now choosing to exploit the world around them, particularly men.

It took me a little bit to get into the flow of the film. The early going, particularly the rape scene, is tough to watch. Without knowing these characters, the real sex comes off as somewhat exploitative, drawing into question the line between this film and pornography. Around the time when Nadine gets fucked while watching Noe's I Stand Alone, I started to understand the film better. By the time Nadine and Manu begin their road trip, the intent is clear, the film is about two women who are transgressing all the boundaries of society, made by two women who are transgressing all the typical boundaries of cinema.

I like the fact that they never have a crisis of conscience. They have moved beyond that kind of morality, which makes it easy to use and then dispose of the people they encounter. The film does a lot of meta commentary on their situation, most notably when they talk about not being able to come up with good lines on the spot. It may be a bit obvious, but it's still a funny moment, adding another layer to the movie.

Of the encounters they have, I think there's a couple of critical moments. One is when the man asks Manu and Nadine to go down on each other. The obvious way to do this film would have them engage in a lesbian relationship, moving beyond men. Here, they instead use women like we typically see men use women. You'd never see a woman ask two men to go down on each other in that situation, and they're reacting against the prison of gender expectation when they force him out. They always want to be in control, giving the orders, not taking them.

Another critical moment is when they go to the rich man's house. Here, we see the typical victim who gets the sympathy of the killers moment. He wants to believe he's in control, keeping it cool, making jokes. This is not the case, and they react against his perceived control by killing him. That's another moment where our expectation is subverted, brought down by cold violence.

A more puzzling moment is when Manu humiliates the guy who wants to put on a condom, then kills him. Considering the feminist message of the film, it's odd to have her prevent him from doing that, but again, I think it's about transgressing typical morality. The implication of him putting on the condom is that he believes she's been quite promiscuous. She reacts against that, and kills him because of this comment.

Finally, there's the symbolic money shot of the film, in which Manu violates the sex club owner with a gun and shoots him. Considering the film's title is 'Rape Me,' this is the ultimate revenge moment, in which Manu perpetuates a rape on this guy and kills him with her shot. It's a nasty shot, but it works on a thematic level, the ultimate act of penetration that she can perpetrate.

The film that this reminded me most of is Asia Argento's Scarlet Diva. Both use low end DV photography, an aesthetic that realy works here. What this kind of DV does is take away the artifice, making the audience aware of the reality of things rather than the filmic fantasy. When you're trying to make a film that apes Hollywood style, this ends up looking like a cheap imitation. When you're going for a movie that emphasizes reality, it's a great match, as in this case. I love the way this movie looks, I think the camera work brings a lot of vitality to the events, blurring the line between porn and art film. I'd rather see a film that's shot on DV and is full of energy, like this, than a more traditionally 'well shot' film, that emphasizes 'proper' composition and lighting. This film feels alive.

Along with that, there's a wonderful sense of pop throughout. The soundtrack is fantastic, I can think of few things that say France to me more than two women dancing with each other in lingerie while house music pounds on the soundtrack. There's a lot of fun, memorable moments, like Nadine listening to music while posing with her gun, or the sequence in which they have sex next to each other.

I don't think the real sex was strictly necessary, but it adds an element of realism. It's not so much the penetration itself that makes it feel real, it's the fact that no one's got a sheet strategically placed over their breasts. In a Hollywood movie, I feel like there's always a self consciousness about the nudity, it's either there to excite you or to jar you after a violent act. In this film, the first ten minutes or so are fairly jarring, but after that, you get into the rhythm of the film and just accept it. By the end, I barely even noticed the reality of the sex, it's integrated into the film in a way that something like 9 Songs doesn't acheive, largely because it's not a movie about having sex, it's a movie with sex in it.

For me, this film really worked. I was challenged, entertained, and left with plenty to ponder. It's not an easy film to get into, but I'd like to see more films that push the boundary of cinema like this one did, not just in terms of violence or sex, but also in its thematic exploration.

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