Art-house porn movie shocks even the French

The advertisement may be coy but the film is anything but. Scores of Parisian buses are plastered this weekend with big ads for a new movie. The only thing missing is its title.

The advertisement may be coy but the film is anything but. Scores of Parisian buses are plastered this weekend with big ads for a new movie. The only thing missing is its title.

The city's transport authority refused to allow its vehicles to carry the name of the film - Baise-moi (Fuck me) - except in very small letters. But the promoters bought space on the sides of buses anyway, part of an intensive and teasing campaign to sell a film that may unsettle even the traditionally unshockable French.

Baise-moi, opening on Wednesday, is a hard-porn movie, with intellectual pretensions. It contains scenes of non-simulated sex, violent rapes and vicious murders. Its website, already visited by more than one million people, contains a Baise-moi video game and portentous references to the trendy agenda of 21st-century "resistance politics": globalisation, Seattle, genetically modified foods.

None of these issues is raised in the movie. Baise-moi is a hyper-violent, arty, Gallic version of Thelma and Louise. It tells the story of two young women, Manu and Nadine, who career across contemporary France in short dresses and dark tights, seducing and then brutally executing men.

The movie, shown at Cannes last month, is based on a best-selling novel of the same name by Virginie Despentes. The author co-directed the film, with the help of a porn-movie director, Coralie Trinh Thi. The leading roles are taken by two actresses, Raffaela Anderson and Karen Bach, whose previous experience is limited almost entirely to X-rated films.

The movie's promoters expected, and half hoped, to be given an "X" certificate. They had already prepared a campaign to demand "freedom of expression". To their surprise - and the fury of family value campaigners - the film classification board recommended a "16 and over" certificate, with a prominently displayed warning. It will therefore be the first time in France that a film including non-simulated sexual intercourse will be shown on the standard movie circuit.

There has been a recent trend towards more explicit sex in non-pornographic French movies. Catherine Breillat's Romance, made two years ago, was an international success. But Baise-moi takes the process much further, by including actual sex acts and simulated, but extremely graphic, violence. Ms Despentes says the film reflects, but does not condone, the rise of violence among young women in France, associated with racketeering, drug-dealing and brawling. "If it upsets people so much to be shown that, then all the more reason to insist on it," she said.

Most French film critics have panned the movie; for exploiting rather than exploring these issues, and for selling itself simultaneously as hard porn and an art-house film or film d'auteur. The explicit sex concerns them less than the Hollywoodesque marriage of sex and violence.

"It becomes rapidly evident that, with all its promotional paraphernalia, this film uses sex as a bait for selling blood and horror," wrote Pascal Mérigeau in the left-of-centre and usually uncensorious news magazine, Le Nouvel Observateur. The psychoanalyst and social critic Tony Anatrella said the film was disturbing because it seemed to portray a very unFrench attitude: a simultaneous obsession with, and aversion to, sexuality. "This is the kind of film which generates puritanism in the next generation. It banalises sexuality so much that the supreme pleasure becomes murder."

But Philippe Rouyer, of the cinema magazine Positif, defended the film. "The girls suffer and run into a blind alley and realise what they have done. Their race towards death is convincing to us ... because of its darkness and desperation," he said. "That is less morally dubious than some early Clint Eastwood films where violence is presented as successful and morally justified."

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