“We’ve got no excuses.” By the time that line is uttered by one of the anti-heroines in Baise-Moi, the controversial French film has long transcended its sensationalistic hype — They Fuck! They Kill! They’re Girls! — to become something deeper, more unsettling than a bitches-wit’-guns parable. (The title translates to either Rape Me or Fuck Me.) Co-directors Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi are working from a script they adapted from Despentes’ best-selling novel about two basically decent girls who embark on a life of crime and no-strings sex. Despentes and Trinh Thi are weak on almost all the essentials — character, plot, camera work; the actors are competent at best. Shot on digital, their film just barely rises above the level of low-end pornography, but its murky rawness is purposeful: It captures the bleak world of its characters and lets us feel their deep-rooted anger.
Manu and Nadine (real-life porn stars Raffaella Anderson and Karen Bach) meet for the first time in a metropolitan train station late one night, having just missed the last train. The women have each had a rough day: Nadine turned a trick for quick cash (while watching Gaspar Noe’s art-house nihilism flick, I Stand Alone, on television), then saw her best friend gunned down in cold blood. Manu, along with an acquaintance, was the victim of a vicious gang rape. Shortly afterward she tried in vain to keep her best friend from being beaten to death, then later shot her brother when he suggested that her assault damaged his pride more than it did her body or mind.
These plot points are hurled furiously at us through quickly sketched scenes without the intellectual’s giddy detachment of Noe’s film. I Stand Alone spoke from a place of privilege looking downward. Baise-Moi’s strength and weakness is that it comes straight from below. The flaunting of cinematic rules and standards undermines the film on conventional terms even as it imbues it with urgency and a fuck-you attitude. Its very messiness, the determined rush forward at all costs by the filmmakers and the characters, is a struggle for language, a howl against norms (artistic, social, political) that marginalize, mock and dismiss. On the surface, the film is barely competent. Paradoxically, that’s what makes it stick. The film is drawn directly from open wounds, and there is no time for poetry or aesthetic niceties.
In fact, it’s the backdrop of utter hopelessness that is the true star of the movie. Drugs and alcohol are everywhere. Everyone’s trying to score or sell, and it’s so monotonous a fact of life that it’s barely even commented on. Violence or the threat of it is all around, not worth protesting because even resistance is an aphrodisiac to those who perpetuate it. Nadine strolls past the body of her just-killed friend and barely registers a reaction. Following her rape, Manu spits, “I leave nothing precious in my cunt for those jerks. It’s just a bit of cock.”
After the women meet at the train station, they circle back to Manu’s house, take her brother’s car and set off cross-country to complete a drug deal Nadine had committed to earlier. From there, the film turns into an aimless road trip in which the women simply try to stay one step ahead of the law. Life on the run is only a slightly heightened spin on their day-to-day existence, however. “Everyone’s scared of dying or going to jail,” someone says bluntly. “That’s what it all boils down to.” As they make their way to the drug deal, the women commit murder, pick up and discard men, and engage in pointedly Sapphic girl-bonding. In fact, while almost all the sex in the film is either violent or mercenary, driven by a menacing score, the scene where the two women bump and grind in a motel room just for each other is one of the film’s few moments of playfulness.
Baise-Moi is a small revolution tucked inside clichés and willful artistic ineptitude. Perhaps the bravest element in the film is its most disturbing: Nadine and Manu are not noble assassins. They’re not carting Marx in one hand and Germaine Greer in the other; they’re clever and street-smart, but uneducated. They know they’ve been screwed by the world, but have no idea what to do about it or how to direct their rage. We can applaud when Manu blows away a leering jerk, but what do we do when she kills an innocent woman who’s merely had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Despentes and Trinh Thi have the courage to show the awful consequences of rage unleashed without focus or consciousness, as well as to admit that for all the carnage the women leave in their wake, they’re not actually fighting back. Their acts of violence are really acts of resignation, blood-soaked admissions that they have been defeated by the world in which they live.
BAISE-MOI | Written and directed by VIRGINIE DESPENTES and CORALIE TRINH THI | Based on the novel by DESPENTES Produced by PHILIPPE GODEAU | Released by FilmFixx | At the Nuart, June 1-7