Mourir à tue-tête (Anne Claire Poirier, 1979)

Anne Claire-Poirier is a director editor who is best known for her work at the National Film Board of Canada. Her films explore predominantly feminist themes and issues, and she has often used her work as a means to inspire political and social change.

Mourir à tue-tête is a film that can be best described as a persuasive essay. Using documentary and recreated footage, it explores the many facets of rape. The film’s opening sequence is perhaps its strongest: told mostly from the POV of a woman who has been dragged into a van by a strange man and subsequently raped, the sequence, in a way, reposes rape for women because as a cinematic precedent, it is often told from the perspective of men. The scene reveals not only the violence of the situation, but the disgust, fear and even shame that the rape inspires in the victim. The scene is appropriately de-sexualised, and does not inspire any feelings of desire. It does not even demonize the man, he is not a monster; he looks like everyone else but as it is talked about later, he is poisoned by hate. If we describe consensual sex as “making love”, rape is “making hate”.

This line of argument is probably the most upsetting and compelling the film makes. It expresses powerfully the true violation of rape, and how it extends far beyond the physical effects. As obvious as this may be, and as terrible as we all know rape is… the film does bring something new to the table. It’s mantra about the inability to love would be cheesy I suppose if it wasn’t expressed with so much anguish. The film demonstrates the difficulty to be physically intimate afterwards, but does not link it obviously with flashbacks or even similar mise-en-scene as a means of conveying the emotional turmoil. The change in the individual is not external; it’s not the memory of physical pain that makes the act of committing yourself again so difficult… it’s the internal inability to feel the love that she did before.

The film sustains an argument that rape is motivated solely by hate, and therefore it is the only emotion it can inspire. Hate is not necessarily the opposite of love, more than it is the absence of it. That’s what the rape really takes from these women (and children); it takes away their ability to love. It is perhaps a colloquial argument, something that is unsubstantial on a psychological or legal level, but then again… so is rape itself.

A big chunk of the film is dedicated to the legal arguments against rape, and how rape victims are often treated as instigators or villains. It expresses that no matter how you cut it, women are the victims, because even if you win your case… both the turmoil involved in having your name run through the mud (because in most rape cases, that is almost an inevitable) but having to see the man who hurt you so profoundly often get away with a fine, like he “parked his car in a place he shouldn’t have”, is often not worth the fight.

Though the film gets a lot right, it does fail in many ways. Perhaps the film’s biggest flaw is its failure to present any real solutions to the problem. Though it makes arguments in favour of stronger legislator that protects women, it does little to prevent the rapes themselves. The film goes very little into the psychology of the rapist, or the possible social motivations. Also, though it is admirable that they integrate historical and cultural examples (notably mentioning female circumcision and women in war), I personally feel as though they were clumsily inserted into the narrative. It also ignores completely that men CAN be raped, despite what the film argues at many times.

It probably goes without saying that this is not an easy film to watch. Formally, it is a bit clumsily assembled but its rawness does add to some of its charm. The film is certainly a passionate fall for re-evaluating our legislation on sex (beyond just rape) and does a formidable job at expressing the complex arrays of emotions that rape creates in its victims. The film attempts to demystify the idea that women want to be dominated and is one of the corner-stones of Canadian feminist cinema.

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