Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Baise Moi (2000)

Here's another one of my "Video Risk" columns from 2001.

The literal translation of this French movie from 2000 is "Fuck Me." "Fuck me!" is what many viewers might say as they try to sit through this truly disturbing vision of hell. Adapted by Virginie Despentes, a former prostitute, from her best selling novel, and directed by Coralie, a former porn actress, "Baise Moi" tells the sordid tale of Manu (Raffaella Anderson) and Nadine (Karen Bach), two women who meet by coincidence on the very day that each has committed a murder. They then proceed to go on a road trip in which they have sex with and kill just about everyone they meet. There has been a tendency in French cinema since the release of "Romance" to push the envelope in the depiction of sexuality in main stream movies. "Baise Moi" includes unsimulated sex scenes. There is on screen fellatio, cunnilingus and intercourse. Unlike "Romance" in which the lead actress was a mainstream actress. The two leads in "Baise Moi" come from the world of adult films. This is amazing because they give incredible performances as the damned women.

Manu is a small time porn actress who lives on periphery of the drug world. On the day her soul died, she witnesses the beating and possible death of a drug dealing acquaintance. This is followed by a chance encounter with a woman friend who is a junkie. The two women are sitting in a park when they are abducted by three men. They are driven to a parking garage and gang raped. While Manu endures her assault in stoic silence, as if she is in a Zen like state, her companion screams in agony as she is ruthlessly beaten and raped. This scene is the most disturbing piece of cinema I have ever seen in my life. After the attackers leave, the two women gather their composure. Manu tells her friend, "It could have been worse, we are still alive." Her friend can't believe that Manu just lay their in silence as the rape occurred. Manu responds by saying "I don't care about their scummy cocks, I don't keep anything precious in my cunt for them to take." Manu seems to despise her friend's weakness, but there are flashes of emotion that shoot across her face which reveal that she also despises herself because she is jaded enough to have the strength to endure her victimization the way she did. She goes to her brother's apartment. When he discovers that she was raped he gets a gun. Manu says that all he cares about is revenge, he didn't even ask how she felt. When he ridicules her for this statement she takes the gun and kills her brother. She takes the proceeds from her brother's bar. Kisses his dead body and leaves. While Manu's early scenes are the most difficult to watch in the entire movie, they are also rich in the subtle changes which pushes her over the edge. From her introduction it is clear that she has endured hell on earth to get to the point where she snaps the way she does. Raffaella Anderson proves herself a remarkable actress as she conveys both the desire to be redeemed and the acceptance of her state of damnation. She will meet her soulless mate later that night.

Nadine is a prostitute and substance abuser. On the day that her soul died, she wakes up to the nagging of her female roommate. Nadine sits in bed watching a dirty movie. Her roommate criticizes her for watching porn films, for being a slob and smoking all her dope. Nadine leaves the apartment to turn a trick. The customer tries to kiss her, but she dodges his attempts at intimacy. She will allow him to have sex with her, but she refuses a simple kiss. She still guards that part of her which wants redemption. As the John has sex with her, she watches TV. A not so subtle TV scene shows a butcher slicing a thick piece of sausage Nadine grins for a second. She hates her job. She hates the men who pay for her body. When she returns home, her roommate continues the rant. The phone rings and Nadine's best friend, a drug dealer calls for her to meet him. She goes to his apartment. He explains that he is in danger. He wants her to travel to another town to deliver some forged documents to another drug mule. He also has her forge a fake prescription. He leaves to get the drugs. Shots ring out. Nadine leaves the hotel to find her friend dead. She returns to her apartment. Again the roommate continues her tirade against Nadine. Nadine has had enough. She pounces on her roommate and strangles her to death. She packs her bags and heads for the train station to rendezvous with her dead friend's connection.

The last train has left the station for the evening. Nadine exits the station as Manu enters. Manu stops her. Manu intends to kidnap Nadine and have her drive her to the ocean, where one presumes she intends to commit suicide. By the next morning it is apparent that the two women were meant to meet. They form a friendship which will spread horror across all of France. Their first victim is a woman who goes to an ATM machine. Manu follows her to watch for the number. Nadine waits in the shadows with a gun. As the woman first approaches the ATM, Nadine says "To bad for her." Afterwards Nadine tells Manu that before she shot the woman in the face, she felt bad, but she then became excited and wanted to do it again. And do it again they do. The women kill a man that picked them up in a casino because he wanted to wear a condom. They kill another man who makes a crude remark to them on the street, yet another which they run over after stealing his car. The list goes on and on.

The question the viewer has becomes "Why?" This is just my opinion, and I am going to break my normal "no spoiler" rule to discuss how I interpreted the movie. Without such a discussion, I feel that I would be negligent in recommending this film. As I saw "Baise Moi," the women had come to the end of their rope. They struck back at all aspects of society in a ruthless and cathartic burst of violence, not unlike Travis Bickle's rampage at the end of "Taxi Driver." Unlike that film, there is no redemption for these characters. They kill the woman who appears to be a normal citizen living a productive life. Something they are not, at least in their own eyes. The same goes for the man whose car they steal and then run over. He too is part of the conforming masses. He may have been one of the faceless men who exploited women of their type by patronizing prostitution and pornography. The young man who asks Nadine if "she wants to feel his balls slapping on her ass" just before Manu shoots him represents the rapists and abusive boyfriends they have known in their lives. The girls like sex. There are a couple of scenes in which they pick up guys for some faceless, nameless sex and let them go. In these cases the girls are in charge. Manu tells Nadine "The more you fuck, the less you think. The less you think, the better you sleep." These women don't want to think anymore. The further down the road they go, the harder their hearts become to what they're doing.

During a scene in a gun store, Manu remarks, after having killer the proprietor "Where are our witty lines? Killing is serious business. We should have witty dialogue." Nadine replies that it "wouldn't be ethical to write their material ahead of time." This exchange, besides being a nice slap in the face at action heroes everywhere who spout "Go ahead, make my day,'" also shows how lost these women are. They realize that they have begun a course of action without thinking about the consequences. They don't realize how dead they are. It takes intense experiences like cold blooded murder for them to feel anything at all.

For me the pivotal part in the film occurs when they are pulled over by the police on a dark deserted road. "To bad for them" quips Nadine. The police are questioning a woman beside the road. As Nadine looks for her license behind the wheel, Manu gets out and walks up behind the second police man. It is over in a second. The woman being questioned screams as the cops brains splatter on her face. She tells Manu that she can't leave her out there alone, "Besides, I know who you are." She takes the women back to the house she shares with her brother. The four of them sit around the table talking all night. This one scene achieves what Oliver Stone failed to do in "Natural Born Killers." The scene gets across the public's fascination with deviant behavior and serial killers. The brother and sister are not groupies, just curious. The sister tells the women that they should leave the country. She is encouraging the women without really understanding what she's doing. Her brother understands the women better, He sends them after a rich guy who screwed him over once. He is indulging in a fantasy murder without having to pull the trigger himself. It is a complex and disturbing scene. To me, this simple conversation was more disturbing than any of the violence with the exception of the horrendous rape scene. For another film which illustrates this point rent "The Wannsee Conference" about the meeting at which the Final Solution was put in motion. Civil conversation that ends in death. That is real horror. It is obvious that the brother and sister are in no danger. The next morning, Nadine tells Manu that "This (the home of the brother and sister) reminds me of the home we will never have. For the first time, the enormity of what they have embarked on is hitting her. She realizes she is doomed. She also realizes that with this knowledge, the killing will no longer have the drug like effect she has enjoyed. This knowledge makes the final act of violence more understandable.

Manu and Nadine kill the rich man. In his wallet they find a card for a swinger's club. They go to the bar. People are sucking and fucking all over the place. When Manu is approached by a man, the women go into a rage and kill everyone in the place. manu saves the man who hit on her for last. What she does to him, makes Ned Beatty's experience in "Deliverance" seem like a fun time. Some critics have pointed out this scene as proof that the filmmakers had no message to put across. I saw this scenes as Manu and Nadine's symbolic suicide. Both women worked in the sex industry. Both women finally realized that they made a screwed up decision by doing so. It may work for some folks but it didn't for these two. They saw themselves and their screwed up fate and just went berserk.

I'll leave the details for the films ending for you to discover. Thank God there is no phony "Thelma and Louise" ending. I hated that movie. There are many films with which this can be compared. "Thelma and Louise" is the most obvious, however, one can understand the actions of these monsters after what they have been put through. Thelma and Louise were just spoiled brats compared to Manu and Nadine. A better comparison would be with Able Ferrara's "Ms. 45." The two films are similar in theme, however, "Baise Moi" is more challenging. It is challenging because of the incredible amount of sex and violence which bombards the viewer. I walked out of "Natural Born Killers" with a headache from the visual onslaught. The images in that film are nothing compared to what you see in "Baise Moi." I had no headache afterwards. My heart hurt because I know that there are so many lost people in this world like Manu and Nadine. I deal with them in criminal courts every day. But, back to my point, you are challenged to look for the subtleties in the two lead performances for hints about their inner state of mind. The characters undergo monumental changes which are not apparent to the viewer who can't get beyond the sexual and violent images.

Is the hard-core sex really necessary? I don't know. I felt it made the movie more honest. During the rape sequence, you see the rapist insert his penis into the screaming woman's vagina. I was shocked. I thought that the filmmakers were being negligent in placing what, in a normal porn film, would be an arousing image in such a scene. Realizing the backgrounds of the two women who made this film, I saw this one camera shot as brilliant. They took a standard porno shot which many a man, woman or couple has seen and enjoyed under different circumstances and said to the viewer "I dare you to become aroused by this. I dare you to take this scene for anything other than what it is! If you even think about masturbating as you watch this then you need to either kill yourself or get psychological help!" In that context, the rape scene is guerrilla filmmaking which challenges the viewer to their very soul. The sex in the film is not love making. It is empty. When the women have sex for fun, it is only a pitstop on their road to hell. I feel that it does serve its purpose in explaining the character's loss. There could have been less of it. There is not as much as you think, it's just that you don't expect to see it in such a serious movie, so it appears to take up an inordinate amount of screen time. There is one interesting aspect to Raffaella Anderson's performance during the sex scenes. Manu always wears panty hose. When she has sex with someone she wants to, she reaches down adn rips the crotch out of the hose. It is as if the pantyhose represent her psychological virginity. She rips aside this barrier when she wants to. When she is in charge. I may be reading way to much symbolism into this, but I think I'm right about the filmmaker's intent.

In juxtaposition, the violence is sudden, brutal and short (except that rape scene). It isn't slow motion Peckinpah violence, but rather more realistic and quick. The violence is the outer symptom of the characters inner pain. "How did they get this way?" really doesn't need to be answered. From what we see of the day they have before they met, the viewer can infer enough pain, abuse, incest and other modern horrors to figure out why two attractive and articulate women turned into monsters.

The performances by the two lead actresses are excellent. I was unaware that they both were adult film actresses when I first saw the film. I was aware of the move toward more realistic sex in mainstream French films. After researching the film, I found that both women are porn actresses in France. Both women could be mainstream actresses if they so chose. Their performances are complex and multilayered. There is a depth to their relationship that is revealed with looks and glances. They are able to relate their feelings with looks and body language as well as through the dialogue. This is quite an achievement. This movie would not work with the likes of Jenna Jamison or Serenity. Karen Bach and Rafaella Johnson turn is performances without which the movie would be an utter and reprehensible failure.

The film was shot on digital video. The camera work is steady, and many of the locations are pretty. There are some lighting problems on a couple of interiors hotel scenes. While it isn't as well photographed as "Dancer in the Dark" it is a respectable piece of filmmaking. It is by far better than most of the adult films you will see, with the exception of the films of Andrew Blake.

A friend sent me the movie with a post it note which read "You were warned!" To the viewer up to the challenge, "Baise Moi" examined dark subjects in an unflinchingly realistic manner. In Danny Perry's book "Cult Movies" there is a quote by critic David Ansen in reference to David Lynch's "Eraserhead." Mr. Ansen describes "Eraserhead" as "The nightmare a psychotic person would have the night before they either committed suicide or began walking the streets with a "THE END IS NEAR" placard on their chest." I've always loved that quote. The quote could also be applied to "Baise Moi" except this film is (unfortunately) a realistic slice of life from our modern world. Frank Capra this ain't! You've been warned.

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