Baise-moi fancies itself a revolutionary picture, one capable of externalizing female aggression toward a male-dominated society and casting aside the coquettish bedside manner expected of the “fairer sex.” It certainly doesn’t bat an eyelash at raw carnality and wears its hostility toward mainstream sexuality on its sleeve, but it never marries this political ideology with its vision, instead banking on the power of shock tactics.
The resulting film is feeble in its execution and childishly sadistic in its demeanor, unable to express its ideas through visual storytelling or reconcile with the odious nature of its characters. It’s a shame, because female empowerment is rarely this righteously bitter and anarchic, but self-actualization can’t be gained solely through sexual dominance and cinematic art can’t be created without the skill set.
Nadine (Karen Bach) smokes and drinks in a dive bar, observing the patrons and eavesdropping on their supposedly private conversations. She snickers to herself as two men fantasize about a female with the capacity for giving great head, while another woman looks on nervously as her two-timing boyfriend ignores her and plays pool. She finds amusement in the female subservience on display, a role she believes she’s never had to play as a part-time prostitute and dominatrix. She has a realization days later, while being forced to perform oral sex on a john, that she doesn’t differ much from the obedient, crestfallen woman waiting beside the pool table.
Manu (Raffaëla Anderson) tends bar at her brother’s restaurant and is not only subject to his physical abuse, but to the aggressive tendencies of drug dealers and crooks in her neighborhood. Sharing a beer with an old friend in a brief respite from her life of servitude, she relaxes momentarily to expound on her disgust for local busybodies, only to be kidnapped by a roving gang of rapists. Though Manu is capable of remaining stoic during the act, believing it is her key to survival, her friend wails constantly to the delight of their unmasked violators.
The sight of a bloodied woman crying during an actual sex act is profoundly unsettling, churning the stomach and channeling the depravity found at the darkest recesses of 70’s pornography. The penetration shots linger for effect, zooming in on the sex organs, lasting long enough for us to question the motives of the participants and thoroughly distract from the pace of the film.
Coincidentally, Nadine and Manu take on their slave masters at the very same moment, killing the objects of their oppression in stereo, as if united by some cosmic force. Manu shoots her brother in the head as he rushes out to confront her rapists, an act she immediately regrets, signified by a gentle kiss goodbye. Nadine chokes her nagging roommate simply to shut her up, never realizing that an explosion of emotion could result in a lifeless cadaver.
The two meet by chance as they wait for the morning train and make a pact to drink, screw and kill until the law or the grave stops them. After warming up by shooting a woman at an ATM, the deadly duo hit the road in a stolen car and jump from hotel to hotel, leaving a litany of corpses in their wake. Each unlucky victim receives a unique execution, whether it be by the heel of a shoe, wheel of a car, hail of bullet spray or rain of fists.
This orgy of sex and death culminates at the “Libertine Club,” a setpiece that ends the film with a cataclysmic bang. As couples fornicate in a dimly-lit speakeasy, perfectly angled toward the camera eye, Nadine and Manu assassinate them while in the throes of passion, even shoving a pistol up a horny patron’s ass and blowing his brains out from the backend, despite its scientific improbability.
Whether intended as one last sick joke or a statement on the similarities between orgasm and death rattle, it manages to be the most excessive stunt in a film gorged on excess, a scene as arousing as it is grotesque. Yet, the directorial team claims the sex on display isn’t intended to be erotic, a claim I thoroughly dismiss, finding the throbbing electronic score, often accompanied by histrionic female moaning, to add a certain prurient thrust to the scenes of intimacy. The violent moments also aim to stimulate, hitting heights of cartoonish extremity, made even more disturbing by their proximity to unsimulated scenes of intercourse, calculated to spit in the face of false modesty.
I agree that so-called “softcore” and its implied morality is inherently dishonest, but Baise-moi doesn’t make a very compelling case for “hardcore,” instead leaning on the lurid aspects of the genre as a crutch when the writing isn’t strong enough to carry a scene. It’s also as disingenuous as the male-produced pornographic product, gazing endlessly at engorged genitalia, staging oral sex scenes to leave the face unobscured by hair and doing double or triple-takes of every explosive gunblast to the head. These are the same egregious methods used in pornography and this film falls flatly into that category, differing only in its length and sporadic narrative.
Baise-moi (FilmFixx, 2000)
Written and Directed by Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi
Photographed by Benoît Chamaillard