Rape Me (Baise-Moi)

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 12/28/06 17:45:58

"It doesn't take much to create a cinematic tempest in a teapot."
3 stars (Just Average)

The hard-driving, explicitly sexual and violent "Baise-Moi" is built for confrontation and conversation -- especially conversation, the sort of heated post-movie debate over whether it's brilliant or trash.

Baise-Moi might be described as a textbook "love it or hate it" film, but the problem is I didn't love it or hate it, either. I watched it; I've not quite processed it yet, and I'm not sure the filmmakers intend it to be easily processed. I don't feel a burning need to revisit it any time soon, and I'm neither sadistic nor perverse enough to invite anyone over to watch it. If you really want to know: I was not shocked, I was not moved, and by and large I was not impressed. Onward.

It's been widely described as a porno Thelma & Louise meets Natural Born Killers, and that's more or less on the money. Two women go around copulating and killing for no very good reason other than the sheer cinematic, nihilistic charge of it. The title has been translated, rather disingenuously, in America as Rape Me, but the more accurate rendering is Fuck Me. It occurs to me that an even better title might be Fuck You -- it has a genuine punk-rock heart and soul, right down to the grubby digital-video look. It's certainly the closest cinematic equivalent to a Bikini Kill album I've seen.

Manu (Raffaela Anderson) and Nadine (Karen Bach) are two shat-upon French women. Manu is raped early on (yes, you see it in detail), which doesn't bother her much, because as a sometime porn actress she's used to giving up her vagina and disconnecting whatever goes into it from any emotions whatsoever. Nadine is a prostitute with a druggie boyfriend who wants her to run an errand for him. After committing separate murders, the women meet by chance and go on a sex-and-violence-filled spree to the too-frequent accompaniment of really quite weak French heavy-metal music.

That's it? They just kill and fuck and fuck and kill until the 77 minutes are up? There's an occasional dialogue scene, but, yeah, pretty much.

Baise-Moi has no great affection for men, that's for sure -- chiefly because it stacks the deck by making sure just about every male we meet is abusive, or loathsome in some way. The worldview is familiar from such notorious films as I Spit on Your Grave and Ms. 45 and, yes, Thelma & Louise. The women's victims -- and there are some female casualties as well -- are by and large dehumanized or not even characterized, the better to preserve their status as target practice.

Anderson and Bach are porn actresses in real life (as was the film's co-director, Coralie Trinh Thi), so they look comfortable enacting the movie's numerous hardcore passages. Much (fake-looking) blood is also splattered; a man is stomped to death, another has a gun shoved where it'll do him the least good and....Well, you get the idea. In what amounts to a climax, the women empty their guns inside some sort of orgy club. Most of the sex scenes, leading as they do almost unfailingly to painful mayhem, aren't really the stuff of lubricant and pause buttons. So if you're renting it for that...

What it all adds up to, perhaps, is a pedal-to-the-metal riff on two genres dear to many males: the action movie and the porn movie. Baise-Moi can be taken as a critique of the following: movies with gun-toting, mean, yet still somehow sympathetic and pliable babes; pornos in which women fuck anything that moves; movies in which men get to fuck and kill with few consequences; tasteful French art films; and those who have ever enjoyed any or all of the above.

Baise-Moi is intentionally rough. Also intentionally hollow and disaffected -- the filmmakers seem to go out of their way to avoid anything that might falsely gain our sympathy/empathy, and therefore fail to win any sympathy or empathy. As a result, the movie is a moral and emotional blank. The lead actresses are good, but then a subtitled Keanu Reeves might seem like a great actor to someone who doesn't speak a word of English. Karen Bach squeezes out a tear or two near the end, but mostly neither she nor Anderson are required to express much besides malice, lust, malicious lust, or lustful malice. It's too bad, because the actresses convey an authentic lived-in quality of experience. The filmmakers essentially just use them as found objects, the way Catherine Breillat used the Italian porn stud Rocco Siffredi in Romance.

The filmmaking is pointedly amateurish. It's not the finest example of digital-video clarity you'll ever see. Since digitally-shot movies can and often do look way better than this, one can only assume that the filmmakers meant it to look so grungy (it was shot on digital, then transferred to film, rather haphazardly from the looks of it). Daytime exteriors are decent, interiors are spotty, night scenes threaten to disappear into pepper-shaker graininess. The cinematography is predominantly a matter of pointing the camera at whatever's happening, as close in as humanly possible. Perhaps you're meant to experience the film as something Manu and Nadine themselves could've caught on the fly, or perhaps its smash-and-grab cinema-verite style is part of the film's overall consciously unslick agenda. That conceit worked much better in 1993's Man Bites Dog, wherein a camera crew followed a serial killer on his rounds, and which was a far more shocking (and funny) film.

Occasionally the movie pauses to critique itself. At one point Manu opines that they should think of better dialogue while they're killing people. There's also a rich guy the women rob, who tries to pin down some psychological reason for their anti-social actions. He gets summarily silenced. This could be either a critique of the film's own disdain for Psych 101, or a confirmation of it.

I admire the idea of Baise-Moi. I'm with it as a snarly, pixillated, PMSing feedback shrill of female rage, except that there isn't much rage involved -- the women mainly kill (A) for money or (B) because they can. I found it watchable -- sex and violence being inherently attention-grabbing -- yet fundamentally uninvolving. I questioned whether the same narrative with the same incidents would've gotten the same buzz if it had been an American shot-on-video porn tape interspersed with cold bloodletting. To be sure, it crackles with more power than the other sexually explicit French drama to court recent controversy, the lethargic Romance, but that isn't saying a whole lot. Overall it's a conversation piece, to be sure, but I don't know that it's going to be looked back on as any sort of corner-turning cinematic event, as some easily impressed critics have suggested.

What you're watching throughout is meaningless sex, which you can find in a thousand porn videos, and meaningless violence, which you can find in a thousand action movies. If you choose to impose meaning on all the rampant meaninglessness, you're well on your way to becoming a French film critic.

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