Baise-moi is a French crime thriller about two young women who, marginalised by society and troubled by their experiences of rape, prostitution and pornography, meet by chance and embark on a violent killing spree.
The film arrived in the UK on a wave of controversy, not least because its French language title had been variously translated as F**k Me or Rape Me. It was Virginie Despentes's first feature, based on her original novel, and was citied as an example of 'New French Extremism': a collection of transgressive films made around the start of the 21st century, by French film directors that also included Catherine Breillat, Gaspar Noé and Bruno Dumont. From its initial showings at film festivals, Baise-moi proved challenging to the public and regulators around the world. In its native France the film had originally been rated 16 by the classification board but this decision had been overturned following protests. The film's subsequent reclassification as an X (meaning it could only be screened in special 'sex cinemas') in turn led to protests from various industry figures, prompting the French classification board to reintroduce the defunct 18 rating specially for the film.
The film was submitted to the BBFC at a transitional time. The BBFC had a relatively new Director and Presidents and had recently engaged in a major public consultation exercise, which clearly demonstrated a public view that adults should be allowed to make their own viewing choices, provided material was neither illegal nor harmful. Although the BBFC had previously permitted some examples of real sex in films at the adult level (eg. L'Empire des Sens - In the Realm of the Senses), the amount of unsimulated sex in Baise-Moi, together with its aggressive depiction of rape and violence, was seen to be a significant test case of the BBFC's new policies on the 'freedom to view'.
The BBFC concluded that the explicitness of the film was justified by its overall context, and that cuts would not be required to the scenes of real consensual sex or to the scenes of straightforward violence. However, the rape scene posed more of a policy challenge.
Although the scene is presented in a clearly aversive manner, emphasising the brutality and horrors of sexual violence, the inclusion of a 10 second shot of actual penetration was considered to be inappropriate in this context, introducing a potentially titillating element into an otherwise responsibly handled scene. Accordingly, this one shot was removed before the film was classified at 18.
When the film was subsequently submitted for DVD release in 2002, a further cut was required to a scene in which a gun is inserted into a man's anus. Although this image had not been considered particularly likely to be harmful in a cinema context, the BBFC felt that this direct combination of sexual and violent images was a potential problem on video, where it could be played repeatedly and out of context, and where the stricter tests of the Video Recordings Act 1984 applied.
The original uncut version of Baise-moi was submitted for classification again in 2013. Two iterations of BBFC's Guidelines had been published in the time since the film was originally cut, and the BBFC had to now consider whether the previous cuts were still required under current Guidelines.
The BBFC’s current policy on depictions of sexual violence focuses, amongst other factors, on whether the act is made to look appealing; whether it reinforces the suggestion that victims enjoy rape; and whether viewer complicity in the act is invited. In both previously-cut scenes, it is clear that rape and sexual assault are horrific, violent ordeals for the victims. There is no sense that such behaviour is normal, appealing or arousing. In the rape scene in particular we are encouraged to empathise and identify with the victims rather than the perpetrators. The inclusion of the brief explicit images, although deliberately shocking in this violent context, serves to underline the brutality of the acts being perpetrated, rather than functioning as titillation for the viewer. Indeed the use of explicit images in these more violent scenes forms a deliberate contrast and comparison with the explicit images of consensual sex elsewhere in the film.
This strong contextual justification for the inclusion of these images meant that in 2013 Baise-moi was passed 18 uncut on DVD, with BBFCinsight 'Contains sexual violence, real sex and very strong language’.