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Baise-Moi (Rape Me) (Virginie Despentes & Coralie Trinh Thi) 2001   


    Who would have thought that a film with a curt title like Baise-Moi would be so ambiguous? The American distributors have translated that French title as Rape Me, but I’m told that the connotation would actually place it closer to Fuck Me (and after typing it into a web translator, I get the somewhat chaste Kiss Me). That sort of ambiguity is fairly enlightening though, since it illustrates just how indefinite our perceptions of sex and sexual roles can be. The bulk of Baise-Moi’s energy is spent spinning a violent revenge fantasy with a stunningly unchecked id that shows us just how much those vague perceptions can manage to shock, revolt, offend, entertain, and enlighten.   


    The film follows two women in a mock Thelma and Louise romp across France, but it rarely feels anything nearly as conventional as the standard road movie. It’s mostly interested in allowing these women to lash out with little impunity against anyone that irks them. They’re thoroughly self-aware of how good they have it (after all, how many of us truly get to do literally whatever we desire?), and often remark how odd it is that they haven’t been caught yet. Even more interestingly, they bring up several times a sense of indebtedness that they feel toward the unseen audience that is surely watching them as they make headlines. Even though the film takes place in a slightly fantastic world that allows the women complete freedom to do as they please, they want to please others by providing a vicarious thrill, which is somewhat endearing.   


    What is scary about these women isn’t that they kill or even that they kill without much provocation or even justification. They don’t pose a threat to men because they kill men. They’re scary because they have the same sense of self-entitlement that is not at all perceived as out of place in men. They feel no need to justify what they do, and why should they, if so many men have done the same to them? They become grotesquely empowered by calmly taking pleasure in their rebellion. That they occasionally kill women too is necessary since, like a man who rarely has to consider his sexual role, they’re not going to be bound by anything as simple as an ethos. Like Takashi Miike’s Audition, this is a horror story that shows men the inherent offense and condescension involved in thinking they know how a woman will react. This film is braver and better though because it doesn’t assume like Audition that there are still some of us who actually believe a woman “has her place”.   


    Baise-Moi feels so resoundingly stunning since we’re so used to getting our feminine empowerment in movies fed to us in compartmentalized bits. Most issues movies want to meet us halfway on their issues. For example, Philadelphia gives us a straight white male protagonist who enters the world of the gay man with AIDS, but I could name dozens of other such examples. Baise-Moi has little time for such pretenses, and instead of composing an elaborate metaphor to show the audience an emasculated man has been put in his place by the protagonist, this film simply shows us the naked guy, flaccid penis flopping about as he runs for cover from her gunfire. Ultimately this lack of pretense is refreshing, and since this is a film made by adults for adults, complaints about this directness (or worse yet the film’s sexual explicitness) feel infantile.   


    The film’s directors create an aggressive non-style that uses grainy digital video to suggest an off the cuff feel that accentuates the most visceral aspects of the movie’s events. The use of crime movie clichés, radical spirit, the solid sound editing, and an episodic style makes things feel a bit like early Godard, even if it’s a bit less heady than his output. A real rhythm is created here, suggesting the women might not be as free from convention and routine as they might think. That they focus their freedom on attacking the establishment suggests they’re not really free at all. That their apparently complete ability to drop societal baggage still leaves them traveling as a pair didn’t escape my notice either. The incompleteness of this fantasy is a feeling that Baise-Moi’s ending, in which the women are referred to as “bitches” by an authority figure, wisely leaves us with. Ultimately the film’s men are less interested in capturing or killing these women than once again compartmentalizing them. The sad, stunningly insightful, and completely unexpected, part of the film’s argument is that its protagonists seem unable to define themselves except as a response to the men that oppress them. 

* * * *


Jeremy Heilman