Combustible Celluloid
Own it:
With: Raffaëla Anderson, Karen Bach
Written by: Virginie Despentes, Coralie Trinh Thi, based on the novel by Virginie Despentes
Directed by: Virginie Despentes, Coralie Trinh Thi
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 76
Date: 04/26/2001

Baise-moi (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sex As a Weapon

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It takes a lot for a film to be banned in France, as Baise-moi has been. And given the reaction of some of my American colleagues, many of them would be happy to have it banned in the U.S. as well. But I'm not so sure the film deserves to be given that much power.

Directed by Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi, Baise-moi follows on the heels of other such "liberated" art-house films as Catherine Breillat's Romance (1999) and Jang Sun-woo's Lies (2000), neither of which I liked. Sex has become such a taboo subject in film, especially in America, that it's become more and more difficult to present it in a basic manner. Films become either far too self-important and deluded, or drift into parody.

It seems to me that Baise-moi is one of the few to stay fairly unpretentious and straightforward, though many would disagree with me. Looked at in the right light, it resembles a rollicking, gun-slinging, drive-in flick, complete with beautiful naked women who have a lot of sex.

In Baise-moi, Raffaëla Anderson stars as Manu, a part-time porn star, and Karen Bach plays Nadine, a call girl. After Manu is raped and Nadine witnesses her best friend's murder, they both decide to leave town. When they meet for the first time at the bus station, something clicks and the duo hit the road, Thelma and Louise style, taking life and law into their own hands.

I've heard reviewers complaining about both the sex and the violence in Baise-moi. Firstly, don't fool yourself -- the sex is hardcore. This is basically an X-rated porno flick. Nothing new there. As for the violence, it doesn't come anywhere near the level of the much-lauded Amores Perros or several other recent crime movies. What makes Baise-moi seem new is the combination of the two. To the film's detractors, the sex makes the violence seem more graphic and the violence makes the sex seem more unappetizing.

Once we establish that Baise-moi is not high art, we can get excited that the adult genre has received such an invigorating jump-start. Shot on digital video, and running only 76 minutes, the film looks defiantly amateurish. But Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi take a directorial stance and play with our expectations from time to time. In one scene, Nadine watches Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone (1999) on TV upside down while a male customer pounds on top of her. In that film, a mad butcher goes on a similar killing spree, and the critical reaction to the film was much the same as this. Later on, Manu asks Nadine after a particularly grisly killing, "where are the funny lines?" perhaps in reference to Schwarzenegger's post-killing one-liners. In another scene, Manu and Nadine dance around in their underwear in a hotel room, presumably leading up to the typical lesbian love scene. But the directors suddenly cut away before anything can happen, leaving the girls in charge of their own power.

That's essentially what this film is about, power. How many films have been made about men running around shooting everyone? When women do it, it suddenly becomes an outrage. Remember all the controversy over Thelma and Louise? Not to mention that, in addition to their guns, these women use their most powerful weapon of all, their bodies. It's as if they have both penises (read: guns) and vaginas all at the same time. Unlike both Romance and Lies, Manu and Nadine remain in control of their own destines for every second of the film up until its inevitable climax. They enjoy sex on their own terms.

The thing that turned me off about Romance and Lies is that the experiences of the women came close to rape, which does not happen in Baise-moi, with the exception of the establishing scenes. The title itself, "Rape Me" (also a Nirvana song), is an ironic statement that cannot exist (one cannot be raped if one wills it). It's the power in the hands of women -- both the actresses and the writer-directors -- that makes Baise-moi stand apart.

Kino Lorber released Baise-moi on Blu-ray in 2021. The video transfer does a surprisingly decent job with its 20 year-old, dated-looking video, and the film still has a grungy power. (I was one of the few that supported it during its day.) Bonuses include a commentary track by film historian Kat Ellinger (who does her best to put the movie in a social/historical context), what appears to be a vintage a "making-of" featurette (40 minutes), a Q&A interview with the filmmakers (8 minutes), and a trailer for this and one other KL release (Thirst).

Movies Unlimtied