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April 22, 2013

Movie Review: Baise-moi (2000, DVD)

Review By: Rob Sibley

Leave it to the fine folks at Arrow UK to release one of the most controversial French films and give it an all star treatment. This is the first time the film has been presented in widescreen! To that I raise my glass and say bravo Arrow for giving the film it's best release yet! Baise-moi which in French literally translates to English as “Fuck Me”. Was attacked by critics and film goers upon release back in 2000. One could say it started the “new wave” of French films that packed a punch and dealt with pretty nasty material. It's interesting to think how viciously this film was attacked. If only brilliant films like Xavier Gens' masterpiece “Fronteir(s)” or Pascal Laugier's “Martyrs” would have come out that year. French film critics would have had a heart attack.

So the big question is does Baise-moi really deserve all the controversy that surrounded it upon intial release? Even more important is the film good enough to break through it's exploitation roots and become something more grand? To think that this film is still banned in Australia and it's considered a criminal offense if you own it is down right silly. 

It's just further proof that the censorship boards all over the world need to get their heads out of their asses. Filmmakers have the right to push certain buttons if they want to. If you don't like it, don't watch it. But banning an entire country from seeing a film is just a crock. Also of interest the film is apparently banned in Singapore. Seriously folks Singapore of all places? You know half the crazy shit that goes down there? Well I'm getting off topic but this film doesn't deserve to be banned anywhere. Yes, it's hard to watch at times and it's not all sunshine and rainbows but that's the point. The film is an effective punch to the jaw that drawls an emotional response. Something that so many soulless pictures don't seem to do these days.

First time I ever viewed this movie was way back in 2003 when I was only 16 years old. I actually recall doing a double feature of “French extreme cinema” if you will. The first film I watched was Irreversible then I followed it up with Baise- Moi. Yeah tell me about it, not many 16 year old kids spent their nights watching flicks like that but -insert french word-. I was kind of shocked at how UN-shocked I was with “Baise-moi”.

Either it didn't pack the punch I was expecting or I was still numb from the traumatic experience of Irreversible. Which is a film I've come to highly appreciate over the years and solely not just watching it for the shock value like I did when I was a kid. So I was interested to see after 10 years since I last saw Baise-moi if it had some artistic merit to stand on or was it solely just another French exploitation film that tried to deliver a “message” and failed?
The story itself is rather simple, it tells the tale of two women. Nadine (Karen Lancaume) a hooker & Manu (RaffaĆ«la Anderson) a porno actress. One day out of the clear blue Manu and her druggie friend are abducted by three men and gang raped. The three men lose interest when Manu doesn't react at all. Manu's friend on the other hand is rightfully distraught after such a disturbing and traumatic incident. Eventually Manu's brother finds out about this and is ready to track the the rapists. So he goes and gets his pistol. Manu tells her brother to forget about it, she's not impressed with his macho “go get em” approach. Oddly enough Manu ends up shooting her own brother after he calls her a slut.

Without going into spoilers Manu has another violent encounter this time with her roommate. After this she hits the road with Nadine. They begin a road trip consisting of robbing people, killing people and screwing a lot of people along the way. Most of this is set to a very nice punk soundtrack. This is one fucked up road movie to say the least!

The interesting thing about this film is you would think it'd become a rape/revenge film. But the rape scene that happens early in the film is quickly forgotten. I guess you could say the film becomes a sort of french sexplotation version of Themla & Louise. Like I said it's been ten years since I've seen the film and I forgot about the sheer amount of sex in the film. From the looks of it pretty much all the sex scenes in the film are UN-simulated. So those who are easily offended & have delicate sensibilities will want to avoid this film. It's a bit jarring that during the second half of the film it almost stops in it's tracks for the sex scenes. Which makes one feel like they are watching a porno interspersed through-out a crime/road movie. All the sex scenes have a heavy punk rock score playing over them. It feels at times like your watching something made by Burning Angel with the mixture of punk & sex.

The film is supposed to feature almost a “female empowerment” kind of message to it. With Manu & Nadine taking out men left right and center. But whatever sort of feminist message the film is going for is lost along the way. Not to say this is a bad film, it's not at all. But between robbery's gone wrong, constant fucking & a man having a gun shoved up his ass (You read that right!) any sort of meaning is lost due to the exploitation elements. One film that comes to mind that's able to maintain a good exploitation streak and female empowerment is Abel Ferrara's classic “Ms. 45”.

Watching the film it's hard not to have a bittersweet feeling. Knowing that Karen Lancaume who plays Nadine committed suicide in real life at the young age of 32. It's truly a shame because she gives a strong performance despite the fact that she was mainly a porno actress before this film. Also let me put something to rest. Some people may call some of the scenes of the film or maybe even the film itself misogynistic. Well that couldn't be further from the truth when you see that the film was actually directed by two women. Those women are Virginie Despentes & Coralie Trinh Thi. Virginie interestingly enough besides co-directing the film also wrote the novel that the film is based on. While Coralie on the other hand is a pornographic actress. I was surprised to find out that for both of them this was their first feature film! A lot of people dissed the directorial style of the film (Which will be discussed in the PQ section of this review) but I feel the low budget look of the digital video works in favor of the film.

I should let you know that this disk is Region 2 encoded so you will need an all region DVD player to watch the film. 
Arrow UK rolls out the red carpet for this film. Finally for the first time the film is presented in it's original 1.66:1 Widescreen aspect ratio. Before the only versions available were the lackluster cropped 1.33:1 versions. It also looks like Arrow cleaned up the film a bit. But a film like this is never going to look great. The film was shot on digital and with natural lighting so the film is heavy on digital grain. The colors aren't bad at all but don't expect high detail and the image does look a tad soft. But this is clearly the best the film is ever going to look. In the press notes for this picture it's noted that do to the state of the original source material that the film probably will never see a Blu-ray release. But that's fine, this is a gritty little flick and the transfer represents that.

For audio we get a 2.0 Stereo track which doesn't disappoint. The gunshots and punk rock soundtrack is clear and the dialog is not overpowered.

Before I move onto the extras take a look at this screenshot below. That's not a crowd of people waiting to see the film. It was actually an unplanned demonstration of people who were outraged by the banning of the film. It's nice to see the film had support upon it's release. 

The extras are nothing short of fantastic, readers of my reviews know I'm a stickler for any disk that doesn't include a commentary. But the other extra's more then make up for the lack of a commentary track. First up is an utterly outstanding 40 minute making of for the film. It covers all aspects of the production from the casting to the controversy and plenty of discussion of the film's original source material. Fans of the film will devour this extra. 

Next up is a short (8 minutes) but great Q&A session with both directors. The Q&A took place after a screening of the film in the UK. Both the questions from the audience and the responces from the director are intelligent. It's a little short but it's a welcome addition to the disk. 

Last up in the films theatrical trailer, reversible cover art and and booklet featuring authors Kier-La Janisse and Virginie Despentes. 

This is an outstanding disk from Arrow Films this release and film comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. 

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