’Twas the night before Christmas and yours truly braved the supermarket crowds to the do the last minute shopping; everywhere, laughing families and excited children carried with them the joy and spirit of Christmas, their delight at this hallowed time of year communicating itself in an outpouring of goodwill.*
The tender and joyful strains of Christmas carols accompanied my drive home and my heart lifted at the soaring melodies. I unlocked the front door and walked into a living room scented with pine and smiled at the eight-foot Christmas tree bedecked with tinsel, its base surrounded by acres of wrapped gifts.**
A sense of peace, goodness and fulfilment settled on me, and I turned my thoughts to my choice of viewing for the day. ‘A Christmas Carol’? ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. ‘Miracle on 43rd Street’?
Nah, fuck that. ‘Baise-Moi’.
The title, depending on dialect or colloquial usage, can be read as ‘Kiss Me’, ‘Fuck Me’ or ‘Rape Me’. A controversy magnet in its native France (its certification was infamously repealed effectively placing a ban on the film, a decision vociferously protested by such no-stranger-to-controversy types as Gaspar Noe and Catherine Breillat), ‘Baise-Moi’ is low-budget production co-directed by Virginia Despentes (on whose novel it is based) and Coralie Trinh Thi. The latter acted in porn movies before turning her efforts to directing, a line of work also pursued by stars Karen Bach and Raffaella Anderson.
Made around the same time as Patrice Chereau’s ‘Intimacy’, Michael Haneke’s ‘The Piano Teacher’ and Breillat’s ‘Romance’, it’s tempting to file away ‘Baise-Moi’ as the backwards and slightly embarrassing sibling of these better realized works. It lacks the gender politics focus of ‘Romance’, the frosty intellectualism of ‘The Piano Teacher’ or the social realism of ‘Intimacy’.
Despentes and Thi do, however, make a stab at social realism during the first half hour as Nadine (Bach) and Manu (Anderson) are introduced in grubbily believable milieus. Nadine turns tricks and uses booze, dope and music as palliatives. Manu acts occasionally in hardcore features and sponges off her well-meaning but volatile brother. They’re thrown together when two separate arguments – Manu and her brother; Nadine and her prissy flatmate – spiral out of control and the girls find themselves on the run.
What follows is akin to ‘Thelma and Louise’, ‘Ms 45’ and your average Nina Hartley bump ‘n’ grind opus being thrown together in a blender. Along with a large helping of bile and the contents of Hannibal Lecter’s lower intestine. Clocking in at just 73 minutes, ‘Baise-Moi’ fills just about every second of them with hardcore imagery – fellatio, penetration, anal – acts of violence (and, in one sickening protracted scene, rape), and general venality.
Despentes has said in interviews that the original novel challenges the various forms and aspects of femininity The film, as much as it can be said to have an agenda (for the most part it’s too sloppily constructed and arbitrary in its narrative approach to ever achieve something as focused and considered as having an agenda), demonstrates how shittily women are treated by men and tests the viewer’s limits in terms of what is acceptable and/or palatable when Nadine and Manu are empowered (for want of a better word) to behave with a more nakedly and unapologetically masculine impulse.
Which is all well and good, but ‘Baise-Moi’ achieves neither a pro-feminist catharsis or an incisive enough commentary on gender politics to establish itself as a film as profound as it is provocative. Between the graphic content and production values that make ‘The Blair Witch Project’ look like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Baise-Moi’ is essentially a cheap and nasty piece of work which wears both attributes almost as a badge of honour.
‘Baise-Moi’ flawed in that it doesn’t function on the intellectual level Despentes and Thi evidently wanted it to, and it left me feeling like a long hot shower would perhaps get the surface grime off me but the deep, soul-staining filth it smeared me would still be there after, I don’t know, an acid bath. But it exerts a perverse power. At one point, Manu tells Nadine “we’ll follow our star and let rip the motherfucker side of our soul”. Which is a good description of ‘Baise-Moi’ itself: it’s nihilistic, undoubtedly, but it exists on its own terms.
*Warning: paragraph may contain poetic licence.
**Warning: paragraph may contain total bullshit.