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Baise-Moi

     Baise-Moi began as a torrid novel, Virginie Despentes’ 1995 Gallic bestseller about two young women on a sex-and-serial killing rampage across France. Six years later, Despentes, 31, a first-time filmmaker, teamed with Coralie Trinh Thi, 24, co-writer and co-director, to bring Baise-Moi to the screen, with its hard-core sex, lowlife sleaze, and murderous slut heroines gloriously intact. A distaff Going Places, what a friend aptly described as "Thelma & Louise on crack."

     I interviewed both women at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival, in promotion of Baise-Moi’s North American premiere. Spunky and down-to-earth, they aren’t exactly film school types, though they share a friendship with Gaspar Noe; and Despentes is a fan of the rigorous cinema of Maurice Pialat. Completing each other’s thoughts, they proved light-hearted about their bloody movie, at ease about Baise-Moi’s in-your-face explicit sex.

     "The movie is quite near my novel, it has the spirit of the novel," said Despentes. "The women, Manu and Nadine, weren’t as pretty in the book, but they talked much more, they had more theories. But even in the book, there was no justification given for their crimes, nothing about what happened in their childhood."

     "They behave like Zorro!" Trinh Thi added. "There’s no idea of justice, or punishment."

     In book and movie, the female protagonists murder women as easily, and as mercilessly, as they assassinate men. A willful foiling of a man-hating reading of the tale?

     "We wanted them to kill everybody," Despentes said, and described the potential victims: "People are at the wrong place at the wrong moment. Some people are lucky and live. Some people aren’t."

     An innocent woman in the movie who goes to a bank machine?

     "Bad idea!" Despentes laughed, recalling the grotesque killing of that woman.

     Trinh Thi said, "But we chose the victims, the characters didn’t. It’s not a revenge against men. But if there were more men than women murdered, that’s our problem."

     They both laughed.

     The two leads, Raffaela Anderson and Karen Bach, were discovered in a half-documentary, half-fiction film, Exhibition ‘99, in which ten porno actresses were interviewed as themselves between sexual interludes. "These two were different," said Trinh Thi. "The little one, Raffaela, was really funny. The big one, Karen, looked like she’d beat someone up. It was a great pleasure working with them."

     "We didn’t know our audience ahead of time," Despantes said. "I did think of young girls because I’d have liked to see this kind of movie as a teenager. But I didn’t expect men to be so uncomfortable with the movie--like it’s a war movie against them! Maybe our women are too strong to be thought sexy."

     "Because having sex is shown in a natural way, like what they eat, like the murders they commit," Trinh Thi said.

     "We’ve seen movies forever with women badly treated, or not even in the story," Despantes said. "It’s just a balance."

     I throw out a facile Freudian reading: the women are so violent because, though turned-on to each other, they never make love, even at the climax of a very erotic scene in which they dance together in their underwear.

     "It’s a male problem, being homosexual and not doing it," Despantes said, dismissing my theory. "If you are not a lesbian, you are not a lesbian. As for the dancing: it was a total joy that males in the audience are sure they’ll sleep together--and then nothing!"

     "Surprise!" Trinh Thi piped in.

     Isn’t the Baise-Moi non-suicide ending a conscious retort to the soupy double death of Thelma & Louise?

     "I didn’t think of Thelma & Louise," Despantes said, "but I like Thelma & Louise. I like Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. The jumping with the car? It’s prettier than Baise-Moi, but I like it."

     Trinh Thi agreed. "I saw Thelma & Louise. I have nothing against it. Quite a good movie."

     Despantes met Trinh Thi three years ago, when the latter was appearing hardcore in an eye-opening Gaspar Noe "safe sex" promo for French television.

     Trinh Thi: "We got close, closer, we had lots of theories in commmon about women and sex."

     Despantes: "We enoy talking, talking, talking, about music, what we find funny, what we find stupid. When we decided to do the movie with porn actresses, we didn’t have to think about that."

     And they both describe themselves as feminists.

     Despantes: "Maybe some women don’t know about the women’s movement--but I was born in 1969, born with contraception and a chance to work. I’m very egocentric, and I like to earn money and have power. Life is a beautiful adventure, and I wouldn’t want to have the life given my mother."

     Trinh Thi: "Two years ago I wouldn’t say that I was a feminist but that I was an equal of men, In reality, the last battleground is that women don’t have the right to control sex. That’s why, when I was 18, I made porn. Also, because people thought it was evil, and I didn’t."

     Despantes: "I’m from a little unknown town. I was a punk rocker, a singer in a band. For ten years, music culture was the most important thing in my life. I got into prostitution, occasionally, for a few years, and then I wrote the book."

     Trinh Thi: "I’m from Paris. I was a literature major, and that was too easy in a strange way, and I started acting in porn while in school. I stopped my studies three months before my baccalaureate. I was very surprised to be a porn star--in just a few months, working just a few days a month. It was even easier than school!"

     In Toronto, the two filmmakers of Baise-Moi were hoping for an American theatrical showing. "We’ve sold it everywhere else," Despantes said. "In France, it’s forbidden. In the US, nobody wants it!"

     Well, perhaps with some cuts of violence, some scissoring of sex.

     "Then there’s nothing left!" Despantes said. "But maybe Baise-Moi will be released in America on video. It’s strange to think how hardcore movies are today. Compared to them, we are little girls!"

GERALD PEARY
(Film Comment, Vol.36, No.6, Nov/Dec.2000, p.67)

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