By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Assault victim seeks justice.
Nicole (Nathalie Nell), a young nurse, goes bike riding one day to a friend’s house. Four men (Marco Perrin, Gilles Tamiz, Bernard Granger, Daniel Auteuil) spot her at a cafe and begin following her in a van. Once she reaches a remote area they drive her off the road and force her into the back of the van where she’s taken to a remote shed and brutally raped and humiliated. Once it’s over she’s brought back to the dark road, thrown to the pavement, and warned not to tell anyone. Initially she feels ashamed and doesn’t want to talk about it, but then while making a house call to one of her patients (Marianne Epin) she sees a picture of one of the rapists on the wall, who’s apparently a married family man living a normal life. She’s enraged that these men can go on living like nothing happened while she remains emotionally and mentally shaken. She becomes motivated to bring them to justice despite both her mother (Tatiana Moukhine) and boyfriend (Alain Foures) advising her not to.
This film was written and directed by Yannick Bellon, a feminist who had worked on documentaries before doing this one. It bears a striking resemblance to Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave, both were filmed around the same time and neither production was aware of the other. Bellon had wanted to make a movie about rape that didn’t sanitize it and would capture it in the most explicit and violent way possible. While Zarchi’s movie has gone on to achieve cult status this one has fallen into obscurity even though despite some flaws it’s easily the better of the two.
The rape scene is quite graphic though I was actually expecting it to go on longer. It lasts for about 10-minutes, which is just enough time to give the viewer a very raw and uncomfortable taste of the crime’s viciousness without exploiting it and then unlike with the Zarchi movie the film shifts back into a drama instead of a revenge horror flick. I liked this transition better as it gives greater depth to the characters including the rapists who aren’t shown as being one-dimensional backwoods thugs like in the other movie, but instead regular citizens who you’d think were nice guys if you didn’t know better. One scene even has them discussing at a bar what they feel would be a suitable punishment for a criminal who had committed another crime, showing how these men, as terrible as they are, still have a warped idea of morality for others.
I also liked the way it focuses on Nicole’s psychological recovery though here I felt it got a bit botched. Having her examined after the incident by a male doctor I didn’t think worked as she’d not trust a male being in that emotional state and insist instead on a female physician. She also expresses later to a friend (Michele Simonnet) that she no longer likes people to touch her even as her friend touches her while she says it, which doesn’t make much sense. She also goes right back to riding her bike even though I’d think it would take her a long time if ever before she’d do that again.
Her relationship with her boyfriend and the way they no longer have sex, which frustrates him is interesting particularly the scene where he’s shown angrily walking down the street and comes upon a prostitute. I thought the film was going to have him take his frustrations out on her and thus showing how this ‘good guy’ could be, under certain circumstances, just a violent as the rapists he hates, which could’ve brought out an insightful irony, but the film only teases the idea and eventually doesn’t go there.
The reaction of the rapist’s wife who begs Nicole not to take the case to court as it would be stripping her of a ‘fine husband’ and her kids from a ‘wonderful father’ seemed absurd. I would presume most wives would be disgusted to find out what their husbands had done and would want to leave them, or at the very least refuse to believe that they had committed it. Then again I was not living in France during the 70’s, so I can’t say I know how that culture would view rape. I know they consider affairs in a much more liberal way where it’s not always the deal-breaker like it is here, but to frame rape as just being another of his ‘flings’ seemed a bit too open-minded.
The climactic court battle falls flat. Having the men immediately confess to what occurred once they were questioned by the authorities didn’t seem realistic. After all she didn’t decide to press charges until 6-months later, there was no semen sample, no DNA, and no other witnesses. The men could’ve denied everything and most likely gotten-off. The film ends without the viewer finding out the verdict and never knowing how stiff their penalties were, or weren’t.
I wasn’t so keen about the boyfriend, who left Nicole once she decided to go public about the rape, coming back at the end and rekindling the romance. I felt this sent the wrong message. Sometimes when a person decides to do what they think is right then that means sacrificing everything and learning to live with it including losing friendships with people that don’t agree with what they’re doing. It’s a bridge one crosses that you can’t go back on. Having her adjust to being an independent single woman, or finding a new boyfriend that wouldn’t bail on her during her time of need would’ve been a better resolution.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: January 11, 1978
Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes
Director: Yannick Bellon
Studio: Les Films de l’Equinoxe
Available: DVD-R (French with English Subtitles) (j4hi.com)