Having looked at the origins of French genre cinema and seen that a proactive Gallic style in both sleaze and gore quickly emerged we are now heading to a time where any subtle sensibilities were dispatched with and a seriously provocative style luridly splashed the screen. In this part we look at one of French cinemas most claret drenched splatter fests the somewhat obscure Baby Blood and its even harder to see surprise sequel. Then we look briefly at Catherine Briellet who shocked her own country with titles such as À ma Soeur and was only accepted into the carnival that is Cannes Film Festival when she finally toed the line with 2007 film The Last Mistress (a snooze fest that not even Asia Argento could help arouse us from) Finally we go to a cordon bleu of excessiveness with Baise Moi a title which literally speaks for itself.
Baby, baby, where did our blood go?
Baby Blood (1990) is quite an obscure little oddity and one well worth tracking down. Directed by Alain Robak (who really has done very little else of note) this film is stolen by the acting of the gap toothed and often naked Emmanuelle Escourrou who stars as a circus performer Yanka. She is in an abusive relationship with the circus owner (who reminds a bit of a rugged Ron Perlman) but all their lives are turned upside down when a new leopard is delivered. It seems not only rather on edge but is also having a rather unsettling effect on the other animals. Not surprising really as it has been taken over by an alien creature from the dawn of time that has one plan to be reborn and dominate the world. To do this it needs a proper host and after exploding out the leopard its slimy (Shivers like) parasitic worm is up Yanka’s joy trail quicker than you can blink and taking over her foetus (although this is open to interpretation and is not actually explained that she was pregnant in the first place).
Yanka packs her trunk and says goodbye to the circus (no really, no attempt at a cheap joke here) holing up in a squalid hellhole tenement full of deranged loons. Her lover wants her and his stolen money back but urged on by the now talking host who has a desire for blood Yanka gives him more rather more than he bargained for. The host has the power to cause Yanka pain and stops her from killing herself as she is none too enthusiastic about her predicament. It also talks to her frequently, resulting in some most amusing dialogue at times. In fact this is handled in a very similar fashion to Elmer in Frank Henenlotter’s seminal Brain Damage (1988) which I would stake a few bucks on being a bit of an influence.
With her developing foetus requiring blood Yanka is persuaded to provide, cue various sleazy characters popping up and getting themselves into all manner of trouble. Yanka does have a conscience though and it is not always easy for her developing offspring to feed, in fact the battle of wills between them drives the narrative along and keeps what could simply be a standard splatter movie interesting at all times. As the pregnancy develops to full term, desperation takes over and although people are more than happy to help a pregnant woman in distress they are hardly thanked for their actions. The gore comes thick and fast with some neatly handled effects and plenty of blood, often in arterial displays, literally soaking the screen in claret. As to what is eventually delivered, well you will have to watch this but the ending does not disappoint in the slightest.
There are plenty of times that this really does remind of the previously reviewed Possession and by doing so it does retain a certain sense of sophistication. However that should in no way put the gore-hounds off in the slightest as Baby Blood delivers admirably on this level and the perhaps unintentional comedic aspects shine through making this a good after pub movie to enjoy and leave your brain at the door.
Although in these more liberated times Baby Blood is unlikely to have much of a problem with the BBFC there is no UK release. The film is available via Anchor Bay Region 1 NTSC as well as a German edition on Dragon, the source for this particular review.
Nobody was more surprised than me to discover whilst researching this film that Emmanuelle Escourrou has scripted and is starring in a 17 year later sequel ‘Lady Blood’ Apparently Yanka is now chief of police happily married with husband and daughter. Of course none of this new found happiness is going to last and it is not long before her past catches up with her and the blood is spilled all over again. Released in French cinemas in 2009 and on DVD via Sunfilm Entertainment in 2010 frustratingly only in French with optional German subtitles the rest of us English speakers are unfortunately out of luck before some nice DVD company over here provides us with an English subbed version.
A challenging director with strong themes of sexuality and sexual taboos is Catherine Briellet who had began her career with an acting role in Bertolucci’s ‘Last Tango In Paris’ (1972). She is the self described “pariah of French cinema” and has also been accused of being a “porno auteuriste.” Renowned for being a writer essentially there were two movies that really got her name around and audiences all het up. The first was Romance (1999), which centres on the relationships of frustrated Marie who finds herself drawn into the world of BDSM; however I am going to skip over this film to concentrate on her 2001 feature À ma Soeur (Fat Girl).
This really does hit below the belt in places and was a film that caused censors around the world a real dilemma about just how to handle it. Two sisters Anais and Elena are completely chalk and cheese. Elena is 15, beautiful and provocative with it whilst 12 year old sister Anais is the fat girl of the title. There is a real strong bond between the two, partly out of genuine love and partly as we see on holiday enforced as Elena is not allowed to go off on her own without her sister. It strikes at times that the 12 year old is actually the more mature of the two as well as the most sensitive. They both aspire and talk about losing virginity but whilst Elena wants it to be just right, Anais wants it to be if anything random and a case of getting it over with so as not to be disappointed and let down.
They meet college boy Fernando at a café and romance blooms between him and Elena; Anais is really a captive voyeur in this tryst as much as she would rather not be. Not forgetting that Elena is still 15 this goes beyond mere Lolita sensibilities with the whiny Fernando attempting to break down the barriers even as far as saying it is not the same if she does it from behind (one up the bum no harm done so to crudely speak). One thing on my mind during these uncomfortable (thankfully not filmed up close scenes) is where the hell were the parents to allow this sort of thing to happen? They were on holiday together but one assumes staying in a different chalet as such.
As to be expected the path of romance at such a young age is not one that is going to run smoothly and disgraced mother and two daughters start the long drive home (dad had left due to business a couple of days previously). Just as you think the movie is going to insubstantially peter out (as it has to be said many French films tend to do), Breillat delivers a final five minutes that are going to leave the viewer gasping with shock (well they did to me). There is a whole discussion that could be played out tying in what has happened prior to this and the ending but it would spoil it for you, so again this is something I am going to pass over.
It was this final scene that had the BBFC cutting one minute and 28 seconds for home video (cinema release was uncut). Unfortunately as is the case this negates the impact of both the final shock ending and if anything trivialises the context of the entire movie. This is a long cut and one that has also been discussed along with Baise Moi and Irreversible on the ‘audiences and receptions of sexual violence in contemporary cinema’ conducted by the University Of Aberystwyth (more of which later).
À ma Soeur is available uncut on region 1 DVD from Criterion. The shorter UK version is out on Tartan Video.
Fuck Me (no, really!)
Baise Moi (2001). This French title translating to Fuck Me or Rape Me was directed and written by Virginia Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi. Self professed feminists these two ladies have made the ultimate film that plays like Thelma and Louise on Acid being gang raped by Man Bites Dog. The thing that sets it apart from others is the performance by two leading ladies Raffaela Anderson and Karen Bach who play Manu and Nadine.
Whereas most films dealing with rape are far from titillating and unlikely to induce the viewer to tug a bollock oyster they put on such a sexy performance that it’s difficult not to actually enjoy things. Also for the first time I can think of the subject matter is dealt with in a hardcore way with full penetration sex scenes. The directors and stars both had experience of working in the porn industry so knew exactly what was expected and made a rare movie that combines hardcore performances into a strong narrative. Dealing truly within the dark side ofFranceevery character in this seems to have no redeeming qualities. We are introduced to a variety of sleazy lowlifes in events leading to the early rape of two characters. Lured into a warehouse they are brutally raped (Condoms are used). One screams all the way through the ordeal whereas Manu simply resigns herself to it looking bored and disinterested. After, when she is asked how she could just let this happen without resisting she replies, “I leave nothing precious in my cunt for those jerks”.
With a couple of hardcore scenes we see Manu and Nadine who she hooks up with in action and clearly enjoying sex despite Manu having been recently brutalised. Both girls commit murder. Manu shoots her abusive boyfriend/pimp between the eyes and Nadine strangles her nagging lesbian flatmate. Nadine meets up with a dealer friend and promises to deliver some acid for him. Leaving, he is gunned down. The 2 girls meet again by chance and decide to go on the run together. Manu having a gun threatens Nadine at first but when they book into a hotel and perform a sexy lingerie clad dance it would seem they are well and truly friends.
A woman getting money from a bank machine is gunned down. This proves that men are not their only victims and the shooting is completely unnecessary. Two men are picked up in a bar and shagged senseless. Manu for the first time does her party trick, ripping her tights at the crotch before sitting on the blokes willing tool. Satisfied and back on the road they steel a car, running its owner over again for no reason other than the fact they could. Next they shoot the owner of a gun store and get themselves more weapons. Wigs are worn as the police and papers are now on their trail.
They pick up a real dork at an amusement arcade. He refuses to fuck Manu without a condom so she mockingly goes down on him instead. Not the best blow job for him as she throws up all over his cock. The two girls then proceed to stomp his head to a bloody pulp of high heel frenzy. On the street another sleazy character gives them his best chat up line. “Wanna feel my balls slapping against your arse?” Bad move, bang! Another hotel and the girls enjoy a couple more liaisons of the hardcore type. They seem not to kill those that satisfy them. Manu has philosophised with a great line, “the more you fuck, the less you think, the better you sleep”.
A cop who stops them is shot in the face. Another woman who was being questioned by the cop takes them back to her house to lie low for a while. Their hosts tip them off about a wealthy neighbour and they trick their way into his house. He tries to emphasise with their plight and talk his way out of his fate. Manu promises not to kill him. Relieved he smiles but she tells Nadine to waste him and she does. They find a card in his pocket and go to the club advertised. Everyone in it is shagging and sucking away to their hearts content. The barman tries his luck on our heroines. Bad move, the guns are out and the punters are mowed down. The barman is left till last. On all fours he is made to grunt like a pig. A gun is inserted up his anus and the trigger pulled. A scene guaranteed to make anyone wince and clench their cheeks together if ever I’ve seen one. To go any further with the synopsis would really spoil Baise Moi. In its brief 75 minute running time it is a captivating roller coaster ride of a movie. Never boring, it flows from one scene to another.
The BBFC have for once shown great judgement only cutting one scene from Baise Moi. They justify the cut from the rape scene saying that by removing it the sequence remains a compelling portrayal of the ugliness and horror of rape. Leaving it in would have made it take on a more explicit pornographic dimension. Knowing that they could be up for criticism for releasing Baise Moi at all they defend their actions further. They claim it both a serious and well-made film. Cutting it further would render it less effective and reduce its angry frankness. They also say they regret the necessity to censor part of a film directed at a mature adult audience who may reasonably expect to make up their own minds about it.
I actually attended a session arranged by renowned genre author Martin Barker and The University Of Aberystwyth debating this decision and the report on the groups findings on this and four other movies dealing with sexual violence makes very interesting reading. I cannot see them reversing their decision on this particular movie though and UK versions are cut by approximately 12 seconds.
As a depressing footnote Karen Lancaume who played Nadine committed suicide in 2005.
Coming up in part three we check out titles such as Trouble Every Day, Dans Ma Peau and the dreaded Irreversible, a film that once watched will never be forgotten.
Onto Part Three