DirectorVirginie Despentes/Coralie Trinh Thi
Release Date(s)2000 (July 27, 2021)
Studio(s)FilmFixx (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: C
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
Baise-moi caused major controversy in France when it was originally released in 2000 due to its explicit sex scenes and graphic violence. While other mainstream French films such as Marco Bellochio’s Devil in the Flesh, Catherine Breillat’s Romance, and Leos Carax’s Pola X had all included explicit scenes, Baise-moi was treated differently when its initial classification for theatrical release was rescinded by the Conseil d'Etat (though it was later restored). The fact that its two lead actors had recently left the adult film industry probably didn’t help the reception that it received. But as co-directors Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi noted, the film isn’t even remotely erotic, nor was it ever intended to be.
Despentes and Coralie also wrote the screenplay, based on the novel by Despentes. Her inspiration for the story came from her own experiences as a sex worker, as well as from being someone who was gang-raped at gunpoint. Manu (Raffaela Anderson) and Nadine (Karen Lancaume) are two women who live at the margins of society. When Manu is gang-raped and then patronized about it later, she snaps and breaks free from her circumstances with murderous rage. Nadine is a sex worker who is also pushed too far, and the two of them end up joining together to travel across France in a violent crime spree.
Broadly speaking, Baise-moi can be classified as a rape/revenge film, but it subverts most of the tropes of that genre. The violence perpetrated by the two women isn’t motivated by a need for revenge, but rather it’s an expression of their general rage. In fact, Manu’s revenge for the rape happens while it’s occurring. Since rape is really about power, not sex, she denies her attackers any gratification by showing complete indifference to what they’re doing. As she tells another woman who was raped at the same time, “It's like if you park a car in the middle of the city, you don't leave your treasures inside if you can't stop people from taking it.” She couldn’t stop them from doing what they did, but she didn’t leave anything of value for them to take. The whole scene is a powerful counter to the truly offensive notion that women who don’t fight back must be complicit in their own rapes. While Manu is still of a “victim” of a criminal act, she doesn’t play the part of the victim, and she takes their power away from them by not letting them traumatize her.
That probably explains part of the backlash against Baise-moi. There are plenty of films which feature violent male anti-heroes, but that’s generally considered more acceptable—just look at the positive reviews and runaway box office success of Todd Phillips’ Joker. But female anti-heroes only seem to be as acceptable if they have the glossy veneer of a Thelma & Louise. Films which express female anger with the raw grit of Baise-moi will always face more resistance—not because of the nudity and sex, but because of the naked feminine rage on display.
Baise-moi was shot on standard definition video by cinematographer Benoit Chamaillard using only natural lighting, transferred to 35 mm film, and framed at 1.66:1 for its theatrical release. As a result, it’s a difficult film to assess fairly. On the one hand, there’s persistent noise, motion artifacts, jaggies, and haloing, as well as low contrast, elevated black levels, and little shadow detail. On the other hand, that’s how it’s always looked. Even if it was somehow possible to clean up those defects, it would be altering the original intentions of the film. Compared objectively to most other films, Baise-moi looks terrible on Blu-ray. But compared properly to choices made by the filmmakers, it’s a faithful transfer and it looks “good” by that standard.
Audio is offered in French 2.0 stereo DTS-HD Master Audio with removable English subtitles. There’s some stereo separation, but no real surround activity. Everything is focused on the front channels, and most of that is steered to the center. But the film doesn’t need anything else. It all sounds clean and the dialogue is clear despite the difficult circumstances under which Baise-moi was made.
Special features include the following:
- Audio Commentary by Kat Ellinger
- The Making of Baise-Moi (SD – 40:33)
- Q&A Recording with the Directors (SD – 8:17)
- Baise-moi Trailer (SD – 0:31)
- Thirst Trailer (HD – 0:43)
Film historian Kat Ellinger states up front that she decided to do a different kind of commentary than she normally does, leaving all of the details about the making of the film to the other features on the disc, and instead discussing what the film means to her personally. She talks candidly about her own experience with being raped, and how the unbridled anger in Baise-moi can be cathartic from a feminist survivor’s point of view. She notes that since violence in this world is cultural capital, treating rape as victimization is ultimately a bourgeois notion. It creates subliminal hierarchies of “deserving” vs. “undeserving.” No other crime puts its own victims on trial in the same way. She explains that as a working-class single mother who was attacked by men who were wealthier, she never reported her own rape since she knew that her whole life would have been put on trial. Even well-intentioned sympathy for the “deserving” is often patronizing. Ellinger never wanted anyone to feel sorry for her, and neither do Manu and Nadine—they would rather die than to live as lifelong victims. Yet there’s no sense of righteousness to their violence since the film denies viewers a sense of identification with them. Baise-moi is partly about anger, but it’s also about a doomed friendship between two lost souls who are at the breaking point. Ellinger ultimately agrees with Despentes that women will never truly be free until we get rid of the dichotomy of the virgin or the whore, get rid of classification of the “good girl” or the “bad girl,” and let women be in control of their own sexuality. There are other commentary tracks which relate personal experiences, but none which shed light on a film to the same extent that Ellinger’s does—this track is absolutely essential listening.
The Making of Baise-moi features interviews with Despentes, Coralie, Lancaume, and Anderson, which is interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage shot during the making of the film, as well as footage taken during its release. It’s in French with English subtitles. The directors talk about the process of writing and directing the film, why it was important to them that no victim in the film deserves to die, and how they avoided any kind of self-censorship save for dropping the murder of a child that was present in the book—but even that was done for practical reasons rather than moral ones. The actors discuss how making Baise-moi seemed like a natural progression for them after leaving the porn business, and Anderson says that she feels that the character of Manu was easy to play because it was how she is—minus the killing, of course. As a group, they talk about the hostile reception that the film received, with Coralie noting that promoting it was like trying to explain the Dead Kennedys to people who only listen to classical music. Since Despentes acknowledges the importance of her background with the post-punk movement, the feature ends appropriately enough with a surprise appearance by a legendary figure from the world of punk to give the final word on the film. The Q&A Recording with the Directors was shot after a screening of the film at an unspecified location, though unlike the documentary, it’s in English. The directors respond to questions from the audience and further clarify some of their feelings about the film.
To say that Baise-moi isn’t for everyone would be an understatement—caveat emptor. The special features on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray may not change anyone’s mind about the film, but those extras are worth the price of admission regardless. That’s an interesting conundrum: I certainly can’t recommend Baise-moi for most audiences, but I really wish that everyone could hear Kat Ellinger’s commentary. It’s more eye-opening than all of the shocking imagery in the film put together.
- Stephen Bjork
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