Tuesday, October 9, 2012

You Thought 'Thelma & Louise' Was the End-All Be-All of Feminist Rage?: "Rape Me (Baise-Moi)" (2001)

This infamous French film is the polar opposite of "Thelma & Louise," and better.

Manu (Raffaela Anderson) has a boyfriend everyone is looking for, a junkie best friend, and a brother who slaps her around before grinning and offering a drink. She acts in the occasional porn flick, and merely exists. Nadine (Karen Bach) is a prostitute, living with a complaining mousy roommate, and smokes too much weed and drinks too much beer. She watches a lot of porn flicks, and merely exists.

Manu and her junkie friend get gang raped, and her hothead brother wants revenge. Manu takes out all of her frustration on men by shooting him in the head. Nadine has a catfight with her roomie, leaving her for dead. Her junkie friend is shot while going to the pharmacy to use a prescription Nadine faked for him. She decides to half-heartedly keep an appointment for him with another drug runner.

The two women meet by chance in a train station. Manu offers Nadine a car if Nadine will drive the two to the ocean. Nadine recognizes Manu from porn, and the two strike up the kind of friendship where two strangers meet and feel like they have known each other for years.

The rest of the film has the two women robbing and killing their way across the French countryside. There are no dogged police detectives after them, media coverage is just hinted at, but these two stay together through thick and thin, including the finale, with an ending I did not see coming.

First of all, yes, the sex in this film is of the hardcore pornographic variety. The rape scene is very real and very ugly. The other sexual situations are not put onscreen in order for you to become excited, like most American porn. These are not easy ten minute vignettes where two impossibly beautiful people enact a hundred positions you have never even tried for a period of time longer than most of your sexual experiences combined, only to fade to black. The sex here is unpleasant.

The violence is also unpleasant. While obvious budget restraints meant not having a bunch of squibs go off like a "Rambo" movie, it is still bloody. Nadine and Manu kill at random, and eventually kill women as well as men. All of the gore here is of the fake blood variety.

So why would I recommend something like this, especially when half of the people reading this review probably would never rent something like this, much less sit down and watch it? The anger is raw. The film (shot on video) is raw. I felt like I was along for a hellacious ride with these two women, only they did not acknowledge the camera the way the killer did in the boring "Man Bites Dog." Bach and Anderson are not two Hollywood stars affecting terrible Southern accents before blaming the entire (masculine) world for their problems. Nadine and Manu have no master plan, no beef with a society that did them wrong, they simply rob and kill.

For two porn actresses, Karen Bach and Raffaela Anderson actually can act. When I watch VH1 (where Music is no longer First), they have "news specials" about porn stars trying to go mainstream. Bach and Anderson did it right. Ron Jeremy will never be in a Steven Spielberg film (hopefully) because he is in fact a terrible actor. The sex in "Baise Moi" is so matter of fact and unarousing, the two leads must rely on acting ability to overcome the lack of impossible sexual situations.

A film like this plays havoc with Roger Ebert's idea for a new MPAA rating of "A," for adults only. Many would consider "Baise Moi" a porn film with a story, and a strong one at that. Others would call it art, with hardcore sexual situations in it. Pornography is becoming more and more mainstream, just look at the unrated DVD version of "In the Cut," and this film has been at the forefront.

"Baise Moi" is a hard film to recommend. Did I "like" it? No, but these two women fascinated me. Their unexplained violence and rage repelled me. The fact that the film was directed by two other women stunned me. "Baise-Moi (Rape Me)" scared me, perhaps mostly through the universality of Nadine and Manu's stories. These women could have been from Anywhere, USA, and no one would have batted an eyelash.

In this day and age where a tacky attempt at selling a new album during the halftime show of the Super Bowl turns into yet another nail in the coffin of morality in this country, leave it to the French to show us where we are headed. (* * * *) out of five stars.