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-Mois North American premiere. Spunky and down-to-earth, they arent 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 others thoughts, they proved light-hearted about their bloody movie, at ease about Baise-Mois 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, werent 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. "Theres 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 arent."
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 didnt. Its not a revenge against men. But if there were more men than women murdered, thats 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 shed beat someone up. It was a great pleasure working with them."
"We didnt know our audience ahead of time," Despantes said. "I did think of young girls because Id have liked to see this kind of movie as a teenager. But I didnt expect men to be so uncomfortable with the movie--like its 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.
"Weve seen movies forever with women badly treated, or not even in the story," Despantes said. "Its 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.
"Its 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 theyll sleep together--and then nothing!"
"Surprise!" Trinh Thi piped in.
Isnt the Baise-Moi non-suicide ending a conscious retort to the soupy double death of Thelma & Louise?
"I didnt think of Thelma & Louise," Despantes said, "but I like Thelma & Louise. I like Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. The jumping with the car? Its 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 didnt have to think about that."
And they both describe themselves as feminists.
Despantes: "Maybe some women dont know about the womens movement--but I was born in 1969, born with contraception and a chance to work. Im very egocentric, and I like to earn money and have power. Life is a beautiful adventure, and I wouldnt want to have the life given my mother."
Trinh Thi: "Two years ago I wouldnt say that I was a feminist but that I was an equal of men, In reality, the last battleground is that women dont have the right to control sex. Thats why, when I was 18, I made porn. Also, because people thought it was evil, and I didnt."
Despantes: "Im 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: "Im 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. "Weve sold it everywhere else," Despantes said. "In France, its forbidden. In the US, nobody wants it!"
Well, perhaps with some cuts of violence, some scissoring of sex.
"Then theres nothing left!" Despantes said. "But maybe Baise-Moi will be released in America on video. Its strange to think how hardcore movies are today. Compared to them, we are little girls!"
(Film Comment, Vol.36, No.6, Nov/Dec.2000, p.67)