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[Film culture]

Mon Dieu!
The bad girls of Baise-moi


For those of us made nauseated by the white-sugar smily-face Paris of Amélie — have city streets been this sanitized of multiculturalism since the Nürnberg of Triumph of the Will? — Baise-moi is a fabulous blast of fetid air. A trashy, mongrel France is back in town: rabid and randy, incisors bared, dangerously off the leash.

Two pit bulls in heat — Nadine (Karen Bach, a/k/a Lancaume) and Manu (Raffaëla Anderson) — get tired of being pushed about by the neighborhood roughnecks (underemployed North Africans, strung-out losers, hard-muscled punks). How to bring some entertainment into their humdrum lives? They go on a giddy shooting spree across France, killing some persons for spite, others at random.

"I feel really great!" one gal says after a gruesome offing. "So great I feel like doing it again!" When they aren’t murdering, Nadine and Manu take screwing breaks with various big-meat pick-ups. Additional philosophy: "The more you fuck, the less you think, the better you sleep." Some of the guys they ball they let get away. Others are fucked and shot dead or run over. The killings are graphic, bloody, and ugly. The sex stuff is the real thing: blow jobs and hand jobs . . . and more. Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers: "Thelma and Louise with actual penetration."

I’m a fan of Baise-moi, a first-film directorial collaboration of Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi. But how can I defend a movie whose title, in French slang, translates as "Rape Me" (or "Fuck Me") without coming off as a worthless scum?

Well, I could start by talking about Baise-moi’s undeniable energy and razzle-dazzle pacing and editing, and by praising the on-camera ease of the two ex-porn-actress leads: Bach, a Dietrich-cold Nadine, and Anderson, alternately funny and madly sadistic, as the Jeanne Moreau–petite Manu. Also, the filmmakers are brilliant in capturing the ambiance of a marginal shitkicker France of seedy poolhalls and street brawls.

But endorsing the sex and violence? It would be judicious to argue that the filmmakers have struggled to make the hardcore scenes beautiful, artistic, subtly erotic. Not true: what we get is the primal jabbing of the most animalistic porn movies. It would be lovely to theorize that the violence is motivated by a desire to get back at piggy men, including the pack of slobs who have raped Manu. An over-the-top feminist revenge movie! Wrong: Nadine and Manu kill women as well as men — whoever is standing by when the two get in a homicidal mood.

So what’s worth taking out of Baise-moi? Its unbridled rage, its unfocused mix of misogyny and misanthropy. Terrorism undiluted on screen. It was the great mad Frenchman Antonin Artaud who argued in Theatre and Its Double that art must be like the plague, descending on an audience and gutting everything it stands for. The bourgeois-friendly Amélie is France’s official candidate for a Best Foreign Film nomination. Baise-moi — anthrax unleashed! — was banned in its native country.

I SPENT WONDERFUL NIGHTS at this year’s Boston Jewish Film Festival, which was perhaps the best ever. But one terrific movie that was passed on, Keep On Walking: Joshua Nelson, the Jewish Gospel Singer, had its debut at the 2001 Northampton Film Festival, where it won Best Documentary and enraptured its packed audience. It’s the story of an amazing-voiced African-American gospel singer who’s also a deeply religious Jew. He prepares New Jersey kids for their bar and bat mitzvahs. I encourage the Boston Jewish Film Festival to bring this important ecumenical work to town, and the charismatic Nelson also, for an accompanying concert.

Gerald Peary can be reached at

Issue Date: November 15 - 22, 2001

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