Academic journal article Gender Forum

Disciplining Deviant Women: The Critical Reception of Baise-Moi[1]

Academic journal article Gender Forum

Disciplining Deviant Women: The Critical Reception of Baise-Moi[1]

Article excerpt

1 Anette Ballinger notes in No Angels: Women Who Commit Violence that "[f]eminism has shown a marked reluctance to deal with female violence, perhaps concerned that the subject will harm the feminist cause" (1). This unwillingness is with good reason because women are still considered either "mad" or "bad" when they kill. Nonetheless, we need new feminist discourses outside this dichotomy as our understanding of violent women is inadequate. Much can be learnt by exploring recent cases of radical artistic endeavours that treat the issue of women perpetrators and push the boundaries of established feminism. The contemporary French film Baise-moi is one such case that conveys a radical, sex-critical, and subversive discourse. As such, it is subjected to intense yet divided amateur and journalistic film criticism from the Anglophone and Francophone media, while its co-directors, Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi, are heavily critiqued.

2 Released on 28 June 2000 and based on the novel by the same name published by Despentes in 1994, Baise-moi portrays the story of Manu (Raffaëla Anderson), an occasional porn actor, and Nadine (Karen Bach), an occasional prostitute, as they separately experience traumatic events which drive them to murder. They chance upon one another and embark on a sexually charged killing spree across France until they meet their equally separate fates.

3 The film provokes a range of reactions that mostly centre on its inclusion of non-simulated sex, and which, along with its extreme violence, places it in the New French Extremity genre. This term, coined by James Quandt, denotes the relatively recent category of French films which include a predominant amalgamation of violence, torture, and sexuality (17). Baise-moi stands out from this recent trend since the late 1990s for art house films with graphic content (Downing, "French Cinema's New 'Sexual Revolution' Postmodern Porn and Troubled Genre" 265). This is because, despite sharing such taboo features with its contemporaries, it is one of the few which garners such vehement opposition: the film has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a "generally unfavourable" 35 out of 100 Metascore on Metacritic.

4 Films are a highly accessible visual medium and are products of specific social, cultural, political, and economic contexts. They play a role in the reflection on, and validation or contestation of, socio-cultural norms and expectations. The polemic critical reception of Baise-moi indicates the extent to which dominant contemporary occidental attitudes are still quite conservative and relatively untouched by radical feminist and anarcha-feminist ideas.

5 From an anarcha-feminist perspective, this paper explores the socio-cultural reasons for the strongly critical reception of the film Baise-moi. As non-simulated sex in mainstream cinema is still somewhat provocative, and film reviewers often evoke the corresponding matter of female sexuality, the first section explores these issues. The second section is concerned with another overtly denounced element of the narrative: the extreme violence. As women commit many of the obvious instances of violence, this is logically followed by a consideration of women perpetrators. Finally, although the essay largely maintains a narrative perspective, the effect on the film reviewer of both the film's aesthetics and its wider context cannot be ignored, thus the third section explores the grainy filmmaking techniques and the critique of the co-directors.

The Taboo of Non-Simulated Sex and Disruptive Female Sexuality

6 "Femininity is whoring. The art of servility. We can call it seduction and make a glamorous thing of it. [...] Overwhelmingly, it's just about making a habit of behaving in an inferior way." [3] (Despentes 126)

7 Having undeniably offended some members of the public, the portrayal of non-simulated sex is easily the most overt reason for which the film is subject to intense critical reviews. …

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