Self-Constructing Women: Beyond the Shock of Baise-moi and A ma soeur!
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Following the release of the French films Baise-moi (2000) by Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi, and A ma soeur! (2001) by Catherine Breillat, the debate surrounding film pornography and censorship in France has escalated to vertiginous heights. This paper aims to situate the work of these radical female film-makers within the context of a changing cultural and social climate in contemporary France. It draws on the theories espoused by sociologist Henri Mendras, who posits the idea that French society has emerged from its “second revolution” as one that is free of fundamental conflict – a society in which women are better positioned than men to resist stereotype and create dynamism both collectively and personally. The argument revolves around the way in which the controversial films of Despentes and Breillat not only inform and challenge the theories espoused by Mendras, but also subvert conventional cinematic representations of heterosexual sex and female sexuality. These ground-breaking films are therefore invaluable for the questions they raise about the role of sex in the cinema in France and the existing boundaries between eroticism and pornography. More importantly however, they represent a rebellion against a male-dominated cultural reality – or in the words of the film-makers themselves, they are effectively a “declaration of war.”