The story the director tells is generally entertaining. Despentes first exposes the harsh lives of her protagonists, how Nadine works as a prostitute, how Manu endures various threats, and how Manu and one of her friends are raped by a group of men. The effect is, at once, depressing and engaging. The viewer is drawn into the grim, unpleasant, violent world in which these women live. It is only once the nature of the characters' existence has been revealed, and the pair have been delineated as human beings, albeit as deeply flawed ones, that the director sends them on their violent cross-country journey. The events that follow present the two as coldly murderous, killing men and women for joy or profit, all the while meeting various men for sexual encounters (most of which end with the women killing these individuals). From the very beginning, the murders are nasty and shocking, and the succession of them can be overwhelming. The director does a fine job of eliciting feelings of horror, anger, and revulsion that so overwhelm the moviegoer that he nearly drowns in them.
Unfortunately, though Despentes is able to engage the viewer with her characters in Baise-moi's first act, she is not able to retain this level of engagement with them as the film progresses. The heroines' cruelty and violence are shown, but the characters themselves become somewhat distant. This hardly ruins the film, but it does, to some degree, weaken its impact. The viewer is given reasons for Nadine and Manu's actions, but these actions so become the focus of attention that the women themselves do fade a bit.
I should also mention that the movie looks cheap (it was clearly shot on video), but, somehow, its visual crudeness adds to the crudeness of the heroines' existence and does not take away from the film's quality. It actually adds to the seediness of the tale. I am rarely an admirer of attempts to make a movie appear to have been produced by amateurs. Such a look, when employed by a film maker to create a sense of veracity, generally merely reminds me that such a person is trying to create a false awareness, that he is trying, in fact, to deceive me. This, however, is one of the few occasions when it actually works.
This rude sleaziness is complemented by the numerous scenes of graphic sex and grotesque violence that Despentes has included. The former are explicit and often disturbing. The scene in which Manu and a friend are raped is particularly intense. It is not the only memorable one, however. For example, in another, she shows Nadine servicing a client and, while doing so, watching a movie on a television, the screen of which is shown from different angles as Nadine changes her position. The depictions of violence are also nicely done. They never let the viewer forget that violence is disturbing, not stylish. Though the two women do, at one point, have a discussion during which they express regret for not coming up with witty lines when they dispose of their victims, and though Nadine does, in one scene, strike dramatic poses while holding a gun to play at being "cool," these scenes only remind the viewer of the disjunction between the glamorous violence seen in so many films and the disgusting violence of Baise-moi. Over the course of the movie, the director reveals the two women splattering the brains of a woman against a wall so that they can take her bank card, kicking a man to death when he wants to put on a condom before having sex with Manu, ramming a pistol up a man's rectum and then shooting him, and more. The murders the heroines commit are revolting, and by so prompting the moviegoer to sympathize with the victims not the assailants, Despentes adds to the film's poignancy.
The movie's impact is, regrettably, somewhat undermined by its confused but strident ideological agenda. It is obvious that the director is trying to say something here, but I have no idea what. The initial expressions of this diatribe do, admittedly, contribute to Baise-moi's emotive effect. For instance, after Manu and her friend are raped, the former comments that just as a person who parks his car in the projects should not leave anything of value in it, since it will be broken into, so a woman should not keep anything of value in her genitals. This observation , while undoubtedly ideological, also provides insight into Manu's character, and so adds to the film. What develops from it does not. The director merely tosses out a series of incoherent elements, including depictions of justified female rage, unjustified female cruelty, sexual liberation, dissatisfaction with such liberation, and so on and so on.
Finally, I should say that, whatever Baise-moi's faults, each of the leads acquits herself well, particularly in the movie's early scenes, when the two are establishing their characters. They both bring a real life to these individuals.
Though I had not expected much of Baise-moi, I did actually enjoy the movie. It is a fierce, nasty, horrific work.
Review by Keith Allen
© 2009 firstname.lastname@example.org Keith Allen. All rights reserved.