"Rape of Love," a stern-visaged but addlepated French movie about a nurse who is abducted and brutally molested by four drunken louts, compares poorly to most recent film or TV treatments of the subject.
Now at the K-B Cerberus and Studio, "Rape of Love" is anything but a timely import. Yannick Bellon, the writer-director, brings more confusion than urgency to her tale; and she works in such a dogged, contemplative fashion that the gang rape itself, depicted in lingering graphic detail, is transformed into an obscenely ironic "highlight," barely distinguishable in methodology and effect from a hard-core porn production number.
The most interesting aspects of Bellon's filmmaking style are the ease with which it accommodates pornographic depiction and the obstacles it presents to dramatic elaboration. I wasn't sure Bellon could keep her mind on a grim subject when the movie began with a swoony love song of her own composition, containing such helpful hints as "You've got wings -- fly!" And I was less sure when the aftermath of the rape obscured an apparently clear-cut offense by indulging in intellectual sophistry and woolgathering -- perhaps understandable in a French filmmaker, but nonetheless infuriating.
Looking at the situation objectively, it appears that the heroine might be jeopardizing legal action by failing to report the crime promptly. The hesitation isn't unusual, of course, and it's supposed to be reinforced by the reactions of unenlightened loved ones, notably her boyfriend and her mother, whose own self-esteem would evidently rest easier if the victim refrained from going public.
But once the heroine decides to press charges, the exposition degenerates into a ludicrous muddle. The miscreants are arrested and meekly confess to an evening of dalliance with the victim, while claiming that no force was needed or applied. This weak line of defense might be totally discredited by the couple who found the heroine sprawled along a country road outside Grenoble or the doctor who examined her battered body immediately aftewards, in a sequence as oddly lingering and graphic as the rape itself.
Inexplicably, these witnesses never appear, and the plaintiff is confronted with a prune-faced woman judge who looks at here with distaste and makes remarks like, "The line between consent and non-consent is vague." Not in this case, sister. What's vague -- indeed, vague to the point of incredulity -- is the wacky judicial process that appears before our astounded eyes.
Could that be the point? Who knows? Bellon's mind keeps wandering right through the fadeout. The resolution of the case, daffy as it's become, is left dangling, and for all practical purposes, this case history is rendered sublimely pointless.
If the Bellon approach took hold, no rapist would ever face prosecution. Everyone would be so busy pointing out how society condtions children to accept certain sex roles and refuses to face the consequences, blah, blah, blah, that no one could reasonably be considered guilty for committing a sex crime.
Since Bellon apparently subscribes to this notion, her movie sustains no moral passion or conviction. At best it's puritanically know-it-all. The heroine's victimization gives way to irrelevancies: little vignettes calculated to make obvious, dubious debating points about social conditioning; the "normality" of the rapists; and the obstinate ignorance of older women like mom and the judge, who haven't caught on to the latest ideological fashions.
The early acclaim for this woozy problem film is nearly as baffling as the filmmakers's thought processes. It may reflect the now customary, and tiresomely patronizing, deference shown to women directors, which resulted in the general overrating of Lina Wertmuller, Karen Arthur, Claudia Weill and Diane Kurys -- dishevelled or tentative talents at best.
I also suspect that a considerable amount of the praise for Nathalie Nell's generally impassive performance as the heroine derives from a simple lust for her alluring two-dimensional form, particularly when unclothed. It's her sex appeal rather than her role or performance that bring "distinction" to "Rape of Love."