Preprinted version. Published in Studies in European Cinema, Volume 7, Issue 2, December 1, 2010, pages 95-107.
Copyright © 2010 Intellect.
The definitive version is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/seci.7.2.95_1.
This article critically examines rape scenes in two films of the new extreme cinema, Gaspar No's Irrversible (2002) and Catherine Breillat's A ma sur!/Fat Girl (2001). On the surface, No's disturbing long-take rape scene is clearly designed to foster empathy with the woman's experience and to induce a physical aversion to rape. However, a deeper examination of the scene's ambiguous techniques reveals that they actually work to split the viewer's identification between the rapist and the woman he attacks. One function of this split is to lead the viewer who is presumed to be male along an emotional path from lustful aggression towards empathic understanding. Similarly, the film also provides audiences with a transitional figure a male character who is almost raped as someone with whom they can identify on the way towards identifying with the female. But this male character ultimately serves as a negative example when he moves to take revenge an act which is shown to be an extension of the rape, part of the same masculinist ideology or myth of male inviolability perpetuated through the violation of others. Furthermore, the revenge is revealed as being the male character's denial of his own complicity in the rape and of his own participation in rape culture. The rape scene in Breillat's A ma sur! also induces in the viewer a split identification with the rapist and with the female subjected to attack in this case a young girl who disturbingly seems to acquiesce to the assault. This scene is best understood as a rape fantasy that shows how the girl has internalized oppressive notions of femininity and female sexual response. In this fantasy, it is the girl's own subjectivity that is split between the attacker and herself as willing victim, between the man's sadism and her own feminine desire to be punished. The rape fantasy could thus be seen as an acting out of the same old gender story in which the girl (or the viewer) is forced to make a choice between two polarized or untenable positions: identifying masochistically with the victim or identifying against herself with the sadistic rapist. However, this rape fantasy could also be viewed as a working through of gender stereotypes. It is possible to see the split subject of the rape fantasy not as someone who is torn between masculine sadism and feminine masochism, but instead as someone who simultaneously occupies both positions and therefore neither as someone who occupies an undefined and unconventional space beyond sadomasochism.
English Language and Literature