Tag Archives: French extreme cinema



Seen at L’Étrange Festival, Paris (France)

Format: Cinema

Release date: 7 April 2017

Distributor: Universal

Director: Julia Ducournau

Writer: Julia Ducournau

Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella

Original title: Grave

France 2016

95 mins

Julia Ducournau’s technically masterful female-focused cannibal film is less insightful than it may seem.

A girl walks alone at dawn, alongside a deserted country road. When a car drives by, she dives underneath it, causing the car to crash into a tree. The driver is dead and the girl leans over the car door to examine him. Here we are, then, revisiting David Cronenberg’s Crash, one might be tempted to think. Yet we soon find out that, if Julia Ducournau’s first feature film – selected for the Cannes Critics’ Week 2016 – definitely pays tribute to the ‘baron of blood’, it is most indebted to his recent novel Consumed. (Incidentally, let it be said that the English title makes the film’s cannibalistic turn evident from the start.) Cronenberg makes a perfect and duly acknowledged tutelary figure for the 32-year-old French director, who must have been fed pithy anecdotes from dissecting tables and emergency wards in her early days by her dermatologist father and gynaecologist mother. This might partly account for Ducournau’s obsession with the transformation of bodies, already omnipresent in her short film Junior (2011) and in her TV film Mange (2012). Junior actress Garance Marillier – now come of age and confirming her talent – is entrusted with the main role of Justine, who joins her elder sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) for her first year in a veterinary school. During the unavoidable fresher initiation ritual (and in France medical schools are known to be the most gruesome), vegetarian Justine is forced to swallow a raw rabbit kidney, which, after an allergic reaction, triggers a novel taste for meat. A bikini-line depilation accident transforms this taste into a craving for human flesh, which actually runs in the family, as Alexia turns out to be ‘crash’ girl, eating her victims’ spare parts.

Although at first sight, Ducournau seems to be using the horror genre as a vehicle for a reflection on the passage to adulthood, the film is rather short on social or psychological insights, while the plot and the characters seem half-baked. In fact, Ducournau indulges in a sensationalist exploitation of the theme and the wide range of unpalatable reactions it provokes. This was clearly confirmed when she presented her film at the Etrange Festival, and evidently relished retelling the pungent anecdote from the Toronto Film Festival where paramedics had to be called during the screening to assist a spectator who had found the film hard to stomach. Thus, inscribed within the horror genre, Raw rather self-consciously plays with its codes, safe within its boundaries and often verging on parody. Ducournau delivers an efficient and technically mastered (but one would not expect less from a Fémis graduate) variation on the cannibal flick, which manages to keep a few twists in store alongside the more expected final feast. Ducournau was one of the 30 people on The Alice Initiative 2016 list, which aims to boost the number of female directors. Let us hope she gives us more fat to chew on in the years to come.

Pierre Kapitaniak



Format: DVD

Release date: 25 March 2013

Distributor Arrow Films

Directors: Virginie Despentes, Coralie Trinh Thi

Writers: Virginie Despentes, Coralie Trinh Thi

Based on the novel Baise-moi by: Virginie Despentes

Cast: Raffa&#235la Anderson, Karen Bach (aka Karen Lancaume)

France 2000

74 mins

Admittedly, Virginie Despentes’s notorious hardcore adaptation of her novel, co-directed with former porn actress Coralie Trinh Thi, is implausibly plotted, has wooden dialogue and patchy acting, and looks like a drab TV movie. And yet, Baise-moi is a fascinating and important film. The raw explicitness of the title (‘Fuck me’) sets the tone for this tale of two disenfranchised women on the run. Manu (Raffa&#235la Anderson) is a porn actress who lives on a brutal rundown estate. Nadine (Karen Bach) is a hooker who spends her time watching porn and getting stoned. After Manu is attacked in a barely watchable, vicious rape scene, her brother calls her a slut, mistaking the harsh, disillusioned impassiveness with which she reacts for indifference. She flips and kills him. Elsewhere in town, Nadine similarly loses control. The two women meet when Manu puts a gun to Nadine’s head, a fitting start to their desperate friendship and an almost aimless journey through France littered with indiscriminate murder, sex and drugs.

With two ex-porn actresses as the leads and unsimulated sex scenes, Despentes and Trinh Thi aimed to make Baise-moi real and visceral. Shot on DV, with no additional lighting and a tiny budget, the film (just like the source novel) was inspired by French punk music (Seven Hate, Virago and X Syndicate feature on the soundtrack). These low-production values mean that, aside from a couple of red-tinged scenes, it looks dismally ugly – but if it had looked prettier, it may well have been a more objectionable film.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Baise-moi indeed caused a huge controversy on its release in France and abroad (it is still banned in Australia), and even the filmmakers were not quite prepared for the level of aggression and hostility they provoked. After a complaint by right-wing religious group Promouvoir, Baise-moi was banned by the French government. This was replaced shortly after with an 18 certificate following a petition organised by another female agitator of French cinema, Catherine Breillat.

The film has been criticised for its perceived hatred of men and arbitrary violence, but Manu and Nadine’s first victim is a woman, and in the book they also kill a child, a scene the filmmakers chose not to include for practical and moral reasons (which they intelligently explain in the insightful documentary included in the extras). True, most of Manu and Nadine’s victims are men, and most of the murders are associated with sex, but the reaction to Baise-moi seems entirely disproportionate given the number of films in which men subject women to horrendous violence, sexual and otherwise.

As for the accusations of pornographic content, Baise-moi actually offers a rare multifaceted, if dark, representation of female sexuality. Interestingly conflicted and boldly candid, it is undeniably disturbing, starting with the violence and sexual exploitation that Manu and Nadine are routinely subjected to. Reversing the situation in their murderous road trip, they punish the lecherous desires of the men they encounter by humiliating and killing them. But they don’t simply use their sexuality for power, they also enjoy sex, in one scene taking two young men back to their hotel room. Debunking another stereotype about women and hinting at the complexities of female desire, Nadine also likes masturbating to porn. Although sex is important to both of them, it is part of a wider portrayal of their lives which also takes in the weight of social expectations, hypocrisy and prejudice, violence (both suffered and inflicted), disenchantment, disaffection, anger, laughter and friendship.

Baise-moi is excessive, unrealistic, unpolished, clumsy, trashy and ugly, but its violent fantasy of female power has an uncompromising rawness, gutsy courage and angry energy that command attention – even respect.

Virginie Sélavy