Porn to Run

Lots of blood, guts, and sex -- but surely there's more to life?

What is pornography? If someone can give me a workable definition, I'd have a better handle on Baise-Moi (Rape Me), a new French film about two women on the run that contains extreme violence and hard-core sex. Apparently the French government was shocked by this film and banned it as pornographic, thereby giving its producers a badly needed marketing angle: Any movie banned in France can't be all bad.

Oh really?

This movie is all bad. I don't mean the graphic sex scenes, grotesque bloodbaths, or atavistic sadism. Some people like that stuff, whether it's pornography or not. I mean bad as in boring and poorly made and derivative. Actually I take that last part back. The derivative nature of Baise-Moi is its most entertaining aspect. To keep awake you can count how many movies its directors, Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi, have borrowed from: Thelma & Louise, Natural Born Killers, Breathless -- and that's only the start of a long list.

Born to be wild, naked, and murderous
Born to be wild, naked, and murderous

Details

Opening at the Mercury Theatre

Baise-Moi employs an American genre, the road picture -- which usually offers a hard look at the seamy side of the American dream -- and tries a Gallic twist. The rootless, disaffected French society it conjures might be of some interest if only it weren't a mere rehash of rootless, disaffected American society: neon lights, hookers, drugs, random violence, nasty gangs, meaningless sex.

To say the story line (drawn from a novel by Despentes) is nothing new is letting it off easy. This tale is so limp, it makes porn-movie plots look like Tolstoy.

Manu (Raffaela Anderson) is a disaffected gal who is often beaten by her brother and occasionally performs in sex films. The one light in her life is her friendship with a drug-addicted gal pal. Both are brutally raped by a roving gang of predatory men. Meanwhile Nadine (Karen Bach) is a bored hooker with a penchant for watching porn and whose habit of bringing home drugged-out boyfriends upsets her roommate. When the women fall to arguing and then fighting, Nadine kills the roommate. Oops. Manu and Nadine chance upon each other in a metro station and decide to hit the road together. Along the way they kill several men who try to pick them up, have sex with some more, kill a few of those, and knock off some more. Their spree climaxes in a massacre at a sex club, where they lay nude revelers to waste. It won't be spoiling your fun to reveal that Manu eventually gets killed, and Nadine feels kinda bummed about it.

There isn't much obvious logic behind any of this, but, as in many a French film, that is made here into some kind of existential virtue. Manu and Nadine kill and fuck and fuck and kill, and they neither care nor understand what they do. Apparently the idea is that these characters are so disaffected and society is so rotten that the filmmakers don't need to bother with character motivation. Their heroines (if they can be called that) just meander along and do things as they come up.

The production features hard-core sex and a lot of it, as Manu and Nadine work their way through an endless round of look-alike dudes. With such an emphasis, it makes sense that Despentes has partnered with codirector Trinh Thi (also known simply as Coralie or Coralie Gengenbach), a veteran porn actress whose resumé, including Pure Masturbations, World Sex Tour 1 and 2, speaks for itself. There's a decidedly porn-film look to this picture. With herky-jerky camerawork; flat, washed-out lighting; and routine décor, the production is so amateurish it might be mistaken for a concept. The music is tacky, the shot selection and editing very crude.

Bach and Anderson also come from the porn world; both dispatch that part of their roles with expertise. Their acting also is not as bad as one might expect. Bach has enough screen presence that she might manage a minor legit career. Anderson seems almost bipolar. With her clothes off, she's taut, fierce, and scary. With her clothes on, she's awkward, clumsy, and vulnerable.

The film includes explicit and rather gaudy violence. Blood is sloshed about liberally, and people are killed in many ways. With the exception of the early graphic rape scene, none of the violence is very realistic or effective, and it comes off as cartoonish. If this were Godard (and believe me, it isn't), the vaudevillian gore might be taken as a calculated choice. But since the slipshod violence is paired with slipshod staging of the regular scenes, the conclusion must be that this is just bad moviemaking.

Like Russ Meyer's soft-porn extravaganzas and the Troma exploitation movies, Baise-Moi is the kind of awful movie that academics often love to feature in film-studies courses. And as an artifact, it does have some intellectual interest. Certainly the generic sex and lack of sensuality raises questions, but they are probably unintentional: Given their hatred for men, why don't Manu and Nadine ever try sex with each other? And why do they shoot up the clientele of a sex club? There's a strong streak of Puritanism behind all the blood and genitalia. A couple of laughs wouldn't have hurt.

Actually there's at least one laugh in Baise-Moi. It's on you, if you shell out money to see it.

 
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