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July 06, 2000 11:44pm
Just say ``Non'' to French ``Rape Me''
Source: Reuters/Variety
by: Lisa Nesselson

(PARIS, FRANCE) -- A couple of sexually active and disgruntled young women on a free-form rampage screw a lot of unfortunate men and blast a lot of people to kingdom come in ``Rape Me.'' Despite game performances from two lead femmes, this hard-core picture is a half-baked, punk-inflected porn odyssey masquerading as a movie worth seeing and talking about.

Following a rowdy debut in this year's Cannes market and foreign sales to nearly two dozen territories, the picture opened June 28 in France on 60 screens nationwide (including one opposite the entrance to Disneyland) and racked up excellent numbers. Key segments of the local press hailed the serious but unenlightening venture, shot on digital video and looking like grungy video every step of the way. However, three days later, on July 1, the picture was yanked from theaters by exhibs.

The movie had originally been officially cleared for showing to viewers 16 and over, but for the first time in years the government stepped in and slapped on an ``X'' rating, which, in keeping with a law from 1975, meant it could be shown only to those of 18 or over and in ``X'' theaters. Through the '70s, this category of movie accounted for 15% of the Gallic box office, but nowadays no ``X'' hardtops survive, making sex shops the only legal outlet for such fare. (``X'' films are also taxed at a significantly higher rate than their less salacious brethren.)

Producer Philippe Godeau, whose pics include Jaco Van Dormael's ``The Eighth Day'' spent his own money to make the film and, per Le Monde newspaper, had sold it at Cannes to 20 international territories to the tune of 6 million francs ($889,000). Sales were contingent on a provision that the then-unrated film not be classified ``X'' for its French run.

Every film shown in French theaters must have a numbered ``visa'' from the authorities. The French ratings board, with the blessing of culture minister Catherine Tasca, approved the film for viewers 16 and older -- stipulating that posters and ads carry a warning of extreme violence and explicit sex -- but after a suit was filed by a ``family values'' organization the government withdrew the visa.

Gaumont theaters complied, but Marin Karmitz -- whose producing credits include pics with Claude Chabrol and the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, as well as U.S. indie filmers Jonathan Nossiter and Lodge Kerrigan -- told French radio station France-Inter on July 1 that he had no intention of removing the film from theaters he owns and programs. Karmitz could be held legally accountable for continuing to exhibit a film now classified as ``likely to incite minors to violence.''

The movie itself, a faithful adaptation of co-helmer Virginie Despentes' successful 1995 novel, is stuck between porn and wannabe art, and of only scattered interest to audiences of either taste. Aesthetically and emotionally ugly, the picture does, however, have one excellent thought-cum-philosophy to impart.

After the two leads have been dragged to a parking garage and brutally raped by their three abductors, Manu (Raffaela Anderson) is asked by her distraught fellow victim how she can remain so calm after the violent attack. Manu replies: ``It's like parking your car in a slum: You can't leave anything of value inside. I can't prevent jerks from breaking into my pussy, but I don't keep anything of value inside.''

The picture begins with Manu impulsively shooting a man with his own gun, taking the dead guy's cash reserves and splitting. At a suburban train station that night, she makes the acquaintance of Nadine (Karen Bach), a rather clean-cut woman whom we've seen strangle her overly critical female roommate. The two aimless and pissed-off kindred spirits decide to hang out together until an appointment Nadine has to keep ``on the 13th. ``

Hanging out consists of bludgeoning a woman to get her credit card and PIN code, drinking in hotel rooms and picking up men for forthright sex which, nine times out of 10, ends up with the man in a pool of his own blood. In the spirit of sex for sex's sake, Manu and Nadine don't kill everybody they copulate with and they don't copulate with everybody they kill. But the bodies sure do pile up as the duo make their way across France via car, one step ahead of any police they haven't paused to murder.

Proceedings are liberally parsed with hard-core establishing shots and inserts of vaginal, anal and oral sex, performed by the film's cast. (Bach and Anderson work regularly in porn; the rest of the cast go by their porn stage names or real names.) While visceral and unquestionably real, sex acts portrayed are not in the least arousing.

Hence the debate (shored up by over a million hits to the picture's Web site) over whether this is just porn or is it, uh, in some way redeeming? What it is, unquestionably, is proudly, defiantly amoral and anarchic: the two chicks do what they feel like doing, reasoning, ``The more you screw, the less you think, and the better you sleep.''

The camerawork, transferred to 35mm, is ratty but suited to the proceedings.

The film may not incite minors to violence but the picture's abrasive score could definitely incite adults -- to silence the composer by any means necessary.

Manu ..... Raffaela Anderson

Nadine ... Karen Bach

A Pan-Europeenne Distribution release of a Toute Premiere Fois presentation of a Philippe Godeau production, with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Philippe Godeau. Executive producer, Dominique Chiron.

Directed, written by Virginie Despentes, Coralie Trinh Thi, based on the novel by Despentes. Camera (color), Benoit Chamaillard; editors, Ailo Auguste, Francine Lemaitre; music, Varou Jan; art director, Irene Galitzine; costume designers, Isabelle Fraysse, Magali Baret; sound (Dolby), Eric Boisteau, Jacques Sans. Reviewed at Gaumont Opera Premier, Paris, June 30, 2000. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.)

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