Genre: Crime, Thriller
Starring: Karen Lancaume, Raffaëla Anderson
Director: Virginie Despentes
With my desire for gratuity not yet satisfied I turn to my shelf where this little known indie film awaits my viewing. Initially released with a '16' rating, it offended the French in the manner that it unfolded (so you can imagine international reactions), blurring previously distinct lines between pornography and violence in order to tell their tale, eventually resulting in its permanent removal from cinemas. With all attempts to get it rated as pornography to facilitate its release squandered by the violence, its not surprising that it has remained a fairly well kept secret from much of the world, but in truth this is a rare breed of film that dares do what few others would.
Following the tale of Nadine and Manu; the former deeply involved in drugs, becoming a small time prostitute to be abused in order to feed her lifestyle, and the latter abused by the sex industry, both find themselves on the fringes of society, struggling to find happiness in their torturous world until the fateful day that they should happen to meet. Running away together, they leave behind their crumbling lives to start anew without a care in the world for anyone else, and in their new found freedom they embark on a drug-fuelled, sex crazed rampage, leaving a trail of bodies behind in their wake, but soon the realisation that all good things must eventually reach a bitter end begins to sink in.
Both leads in this film began their careers in the sex industry; no 'respectable' actress would accept such a daring role requiring the often harsh and explicit scenes depicted here, and there is no shying away from the actions they commit. There's no attempt to soften the blow dealt to their multiple victims but throughout it all is a tale of friendship, and whilst neither demonstrate exceptional performances, this point makes itself evident from the first time they meet. They aren't mono-dimensional characters being portrayed either, both distinct and unique from one another, and most critically, they're believable, perhaps because their real lives mirror their roles in the film far more closely than most would accept (in more recent years Anderson has spoken out about her past, being molested by her uncle as a child before being abused by the sex industry).
There are, however, noticeable issues in the construction of the film itself; the tiny budget very apparent from the get-go – particularly in the effects and the post-production – and the actual picture quality which you shouldn't expect to be greater than an old VHS release all make this feel far more dated than you would expect, and hence also less accessible to many who are put off by such things. The camera work feels almost as though constructed with a single hand held camera – an unintentional “Blair Witch” effect – which whilst on some levels contributes to the overall rough and ready feel to the piece and the manner its intentionally left raw to the viewer, leaves it with something of an undesirable but unavoidable amateurish gloss.
The controversy its created is as interesting as the film itself; the violence is nothing too far from that seen in Hollywood productions – albeit without the special effects, instead left raw and visceral – and the nudity is no different from that in pornographic material, and yet the uproar the combination of the two genres has created is nothing short of staggering. This is the antithesis to Amelie and her portrayal of France; its a re-imagining of “Thelma and Louise” if all the grit was left in, and pushes more than a few boundaries in the process. This small indie film sparked a controversy that may well have been critical in the development of the entire movement of “New French Extremity” and for this fact alone it deserves to be remembered.