It's the notorious French brutalist movie with violence and unsimulated sex. (However the title, despite what you might have heard, should be translated as "Fuck Me" rather than "Rape Me". The directors reject the latter.) It was banned by the Conseil d'Etat and became the most controversial film to come out of France in decades, if not of all time. In Canada, the Ontario review board banned it for being pornographic, then when they resubmitted it under a pornographic licence banned it again for being too violent. (They eventually had to pass it though, since it had been chosen for the Toronto Film Festival and had been passed in British Columbia and Quebec.)
There were a lot of reactions like this, although some countries don't seem to have been worried. It's been shown uncut on television in Mexico and Finland, for instance.
To be honest, the film comes across as fairly artless. It was shot on digital video with available light, for almost no money. It's angry, but without much point. The people who made it Its virtues come in the fact that it's giving a voice to people who aren't usually heard and that that voice is clear, very loud and, in its way, truthful.
1. Virginie Despentes. She worked as a prostitute and a rap singer before writing Baise-Moi, turning it into this film and apparently pioneering a new genre of feminist literature that's aggressive, violent and sexual. (One person who read this review suggested that this sounded a lot like Kathy Acker, though.) These days she's a successful and high-profile writer.
2. Coralie Trinh Thi, her co-director, who gave up literature studies to become a porn star at the age of 18. Apparently she's noted for an aggressive on-screen persona.
3. The people in front of the camera were also porn stars, although they retired from the business the following year. Karen Lancaume, the very pretty one, committed suicide in 2005. Raffaela Anderson, the shorter one with bigger boobs, has since done a documentary about the porn industry and written books about herself, mentioning for instance her depression and her cocaine and alcohol abuse. She says she lost her virginity on camera. The most shocking story though is that she was once raped by two men while still working in porn, only for the prosecutor and judge to dismiss the case with the attitude, "You're an actress in pornographic films, so you can't complain."
The directors chose to use porn stars, then backed up their judgement by getting good performances. They're now glad they made it cheaply, with what they call a "trash aesthetic". Another factor is, well, to quote Trin Thi... "We ended up completely steamrollered with cocaine. We started taking a fair amount during the shoot. Then afterwards, we had the promotion, and since I can't stand that part of the business, the cocaine allowed us to sort of disconnect from our emotions and keep going, when normally we would have stopped. Then, after the promo came the ban, and it was just too much, we were incapable of continuing without it. We were exhausted."
The film's first act is unpleasantly realistic. There's nothing there I can recognise personally, but I've lived a privileged life to be able to say that. Again quoting Trinh Thi... "The first part of the film, the rape scene and the scene in the tabac, that's all part of everyday France." To be more specific, it's part of everyday life for the underclasses, where people get killed, beaten in the face and/or gang-raped. They have sex for money, or they deal drugs. However no matter how exploitative this might sound in synopsis, it never comes across as lurid. It's too matter-of-fact for that, not to say low-rent. To give you an impression of how this film looks, it's probably a 3 or so on the following hypothetical scale:
- 10 = normal movie
- 5 = television
- 0 = CCTV security camera footage
Things get bad, then they get unspeakable. Eventually the film becomes a shocking road movie, in which Lancaume and Anderson have gone beyond all recognisable norms of behaviour and are murdering people in the street on a whim. This is clearly not going to end well, but that doesn't matter. Nothing matters. It's a bleak fantasy about what happens when people like this go off the deep end and punch a hole in the world. Trinh Thi describes this as "much more like a cartoon, a comic strip. It's a fantasy, a rather joyful fantasy. There's a kind of irony in the choreographic death scenes."
Did I enjoy this film? Not really. "Enjoy" is hardly the word, although it's in no way whatsoever boring. However am I glad that it exists and do I support its creators' right to put their voices forward, in the teeth of near-hysterical opposition from self-appointed defenders of society? Absolutely. This film blazes with energy. It's short, it's vicious and it's the kind of auteur work that would be recognised by Takashi Miike and not many more film directors in the world. It's certainly a million miles away from what French cinema normally understands by the word.
The sex is indeed real, incidentally. What it's not is erotic, but I do think it's unique in its aggressive take on sexuality. It's as brutal and unsentimental as any "new girl every night" chauvinist, but with a woman's voice and from a female angle. Anderson can shrug off being raped, although it's not absurd to wonder how completely she did shrug it off and whether she's still partly reacting to it. They pick up faceless men for sex, which we then see. Sometimes, afterwards, they'll kill them. It's not hard to find comparisons between this film's violence and amorality and the work of someone like Tarantino, but I think you'll struggle to find other filmmakers who've even come close to where Despentes and Trinh Thi go with female sexuality. The fact that we're seeing hardcore sex on screen is only one element in that.
The music, when they have any, is loud, harsh and in-your-face. It also usually has lyrics.
In its way, I think the film succeeds colossally. It's exactly what its creators wanted it to be, with all the force they'd wanted to put into it. In its way, it has depth. It's not as shocking as you might imagine, but I wouldn't say it's going for shock value as such. It just is. It depicts itself. It's saying whatever it wants to say and sticking a pistol up the anus of anyone it doesn't like before pulling the trigger. (Whoops, spoilers.) It's punk.
"Where are the witty lines?"