Saturday, October 05, 2013

Wheels Turning with Pistols

There is a double standard for psychopaths. In his review for 2000's Baise-moi (Fuck Me), Roger Ebert says, "''Baise Moi'' would be perfectly acceptable if the women simply killed men, and no sex was involved. At some level it seems so ... cruel ... to shoot a man at his moment of success." I have great respect for Roger Ebert but I would have asked him what he thought he meant by "success". The men slaughtered by the pair of rampaging nymphomaniac psychopaths tend to see women as objects of sexual gratification. Even the rich man who opens a safe for them in one scene, who heaps praise on their infamous killing spree, does so with a barely suppressed leer. This movie certainly isn't as good as Kind Hearts and Coronets or Dial M for Murder. But it is a good time, and why shouldn't we be able to have vicarious fun through a female murderer as much as a male one?

I don't think men ought to be killed for noticing a woman's body while not respecting her personality. But I certainly don't hold it against women for fantasising about it. I'm not even talking about rape or assault here, although that does take place in the movie. These women are declaring war on the fundamental way most men have organised gender in their minds.

The film stars two porn stars and was written and directed by two women who also worked in the sex industry, Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi. As such, the film contains unsimulated sex but I don't connect it to the content of the story in the way many critics seem to have. To me, sex on film is simply part of the artistic palette these four women access. I think the story might have been told just as effectively without hardcore sex, but, on the other hand, it would have been a fundamentally different film. This is because style is substance. The aesthetic modifies how one interprets a work of art in some ways that cannot even be articulated because the language of vision and sound isn't always translatable into, well, language.

But it's only natural for artists to use the tools they've honed in their professional lives, to draw on the devices of relating to others they've developed in their personal lives. In other words, this is a song from the land of the porn star, and it is sung in the traditional melodies and structures of its people.

The two leads seem like thinly veiled fantasy versions of the writing and directing team. Manu (Raffaela Anderson) is a sexually jaded and bitter pornographic actress and Nadine (Karen Lancaume) is a tall, quiet woman who is obsessed with pornography. After Nadine murders her nagging roommate and Manu murders her boyfriend when he threatens to kill the man who raped her, the two women decide to travel to Paris together. Along the way they seduce men, have sex with them, and kill them.

In this review/interview with the filmmakers from The Guardian, Trinh Thi talks about the difference between the rape scene at the beginning of the film and the mayhem that follow;

'The first part of the film,' says Trinh Thi, 'the rape scene and the scene in the tabac, that's all part of everyday France. After that, the film becomes much more like a cartoon, a comic strip. It's a fantasy, a rather joyful fantasy. There's a kind of irony in the choreographic death scenes.'

That latter portion of the film might be described as a Grand Theft Auto movie. It's exactly the kind of visceral fun one takes from extreme, fake violence.

I generally don't find rape scenes very effective in movies--they tend to get too caught up in the sexuality of the scene instead of focusing on it as an assault, as they ought to. This one, possibly because it was made by women, kind of gets it right, though the inability of most of the porn stars to give effective performances hamstrings it somewhat. However, the two leads, despite having worked in porn, actually give effective performances, particularly Raffaela Anderson who's quite natural as the uninhibited ball of rage. And I don't mean sexually uninhibited--even before the murder spree, she walks around like she owns everything.

When she's raped, she tells her fellow victim (who is another woman, not Nadine) that, much as one removes their valuables from the car when leaving it in a bad neighbourhood, she has left nothing valuable in her vagina, leading to a coldness in the encounter that prompts one of the assailants to say it's like having sex with a zombie.

There is indeed a fundamental sadness in this woman's disconnect from her own body which is part of what enables her to happily commit multiple homicide. It's an interesting contradiction that she doesn't seek revenge on her rapist but instead kills the man who wants to kill her rapist--to her, the man who would avenge her is in so doing proclaiming her to be his possession more than the rapist. Because the rapist assaults her body, something she has disconnected from, while her would-be avenger values her body as part of her and her as his responsibility. In a word, patronising.

It's not so different from the rich man mentioned above who opens the safe for them. In the catharsis of the murder spree, you see two women striking against the common phoniness of men.

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