Virginie Despentes Interviewed
Interview by Alan Kelly.
3:AM: Virginie, I don’t want to talk about King Kong Theory right away, if that is OK with you – looking back, to Baise-moi, both the book and the adaptation, is there anything you feel you could or should have done differently?
VD: Both novel and movie are perfect. I would not change anything.
3:AM: Both are pretty much top-shelf in the canon of Bad Girls in Dirty Pictures – of course it was more than just an exploitation tale, right?
VD: It is so pathetic that we still talk about “bad girls in dirty pictures” movies. How would you call the movies with bad boys carrying big guns and flirting with girls? Regular cinema? Entertainment? So one gender has to justify “that was not just an exploitation tale” and the other gender just take the gun, the violence, the sex – the greatest thing in cinema industry – and no one ever asks any questions about that prerogative. Fine. Baise-moi has nothing to do with “bad girls”, it is a low budget, punk, violent movie. Forget the tits and cunts, for one second. The key words here should be: gun, death, fake blood. Not “pussy pussy pussy”. We did not know people would be so amazed about the “pussy pussy pussy” angle. I don’t care those two characters have cunts. They are archetypes: violent outcasts. Should not be always defined by them having cunts.
3:AM: The transgressive roar of musicians like Lydia Lunch to writers like Helen Walsh and self-proclaimed gender queers like Kate Bornstein have shattered the bell-jar of anticipated femininity. Do you think this will always be an on-going process?
VD: It seems pretty difficult to me to put Lydia Lunch and Kate Bornstein in a common field. Different type of work, no? I don’t know Helen Walsh. Anyway, let’s put all those deviant pussies in one big bag so we can answer the question… As long as people do not get killed or jailed for messing up with genders, it will be an ongoing process. There is nothing natural or obvious in being feminine or virile. If you don’t control artificially and strongly that everyone is accepting the heterosexual rules then you have an exploision of cross gendering, male interfucking, dyke culture and gender fucking… because heterosexuality as we know it is so plain boring, dumb, dull and artificial, it has to be imposed upon people, otherwise they don’t take it.
3:AM: I remember seeing Baise-moi at the Irish Film Institute when it was first released in Ireland a few years back and thinking, “why haven’t I seen stuff like this before?” A film so vicious and relenting and utterly exhilarating. Was it written as a warning, a way to purge yourself, or was just some nasty fun?
VD: We wanted to make a punk movie. Many strong emotions, all linked and expressed through anger. Anger is not depression, anger is working with desire and humour. Anger is destructive, but very active. We loved the movies from the 80’s Scorsese, Ferrara, De Palma’s Scarface, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven and so with a tiny, tiny budget, we wanted to shoot the same kind of story: strong friendship, outcasts, graphic violence, sex and a bad ending.
We did not intend to do anything special with some women characters, but I suppose we just allowed female characters to behave as if they did not carry cunts and tits, just behave as cinema characters, regular ones. That was the big deal. We forgot that female characters have to be censored and shaped so they can remain females, even in movies.
3:AM: The fall-out reactionary mauling you received was viciously personal – with every tabloid moral guardian spouting buzzwords like “too edgy,” “obscene,” and your name highlighted and underlined in every second sentence in almost every by-line. I know you got angry, but just how pissed off did it make you that critics missed the point?
VD: When a movie is taken out of the theatres, you don’t have many time left to wonder about critics’ works. So I did not pay lots of attention about it, and I suppose Coralie did not, either. The strong point about the French reaction was not its personal side, it was that after it was taken out of the theatres, 98% of the articles would agree with the banning, even if the banning was provoked by a single extreme right pro-family movement complaint. The socialist press widely agreed with the ban. They sincerely felt that France would be a better space if we don’t talk about violence from the lowest class.
There is something very strong, in France, about censorship and class struggles. It did not stop with Baise-moi. Things are gettting pretty harsh, these last years, for hip hop artists. Lots of trials, very long and expensive processes, and lots of twisted censorships against the hip hop arts. And the intellectuals, most of the time, they do not want to have dirty hands, they do not touch Baise-moi or hip hop artists. French intellectuals, most of the time, they agree with that censorship. They don’t want these popular cultures to explode. They think we should all shut the fuck up and listen to our elites. It’s getting worst now because elites are so frightened of another street revolution, they are doing anything they can to forbid expressions of anger from the lower classes.
In foreign countries, [the reaction] was different, as soon as we reached the Toronto Film Festival it became much more classic, with both loathing or enthusiasm in the journalistic fields – we barely got indifference, which we took as a good sign.
3:AM: King Kong Theory: a hybrid of polemic spliced with autobiographical content. Your own deeply personal response to the witch hunt that ensued following Baise-moi. What took you so long, getting back to the typewriter?
VD: I published two novels in between (Teen Spirit and Bye Bye Blondie) and made a comic scenario (Trois Etoiles). But not translated in English.
3:AM: Do you think sexual freedom and sexual damage is the same thing, or both or if not what do you believe differentiates the two?
VD: What is the common point between sexual freedom and sexual damage? Do you think that sexuality was any less damaging before the 70’s? Ah ah ah, that’s an interesting theory!
3:AM: There are allusions to key theorists in feminism in King Kong Theory – yet you don’t waffle, your writing style has a lucid clarity and a concise often world weary cynical rhythm. Have you had any negative feedback?
VD: Yes, from the UK for example, some.
3:AM: You say you speak on behalf of the “ugly” ones – is this not perhaps creating another cage by which to define women?
VD: Do you think I created this cage? Do you have any male heterosexual friends? Have a talk with them: the cage is already there. It’s not a cage, actually, it’s our main field. If you have any really fat friend, you should also have a talk with her or him: the cage is pretty tough to escape.
I am not creating anything, the space is already created. I am just standing from there to express what I have to express. Because I felt that the most important reaction to any feminist work in France is: she is so ugly that she can not provoke male’s interest, so she is angry and feminist. So I thought that was the good starting point: yes I am, and so what?
3:AM: OK, to you, who is the most important woman in existence, either living or dead?
VD: Is Jesus Christ a correct answer ?
3:AM: If King Kong Theory manages to accomplish anything, what would you like that thing to be?
VD: Here in Barcelona it was a strong inspiration for Itziar Ziga to write her book Devenir Perras (Becoming a Bitch) and her book is radical, original and emotional, and is catching a big audience here. So I feel kind of like King Kong started a feminist writing contamination, and it feels good.
This interview also ran at dogmatika recently. Reprinted with thanks.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Alan Kelly is the contributing editor to Dogmatika. He has worked for a number of specialist magazines, Film Ireland, Pretty Scary, Penny Blood, Bookslut et al. He lives in Wicklow and is partial to pulp, noir, hardboiled, brainy erotica and horror fiction.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, May 5th, 2009.