There are moments during "Rape of Love" when we're
deeply touched by its outrage and anger, and then other moments - more of them
- when we have the strangest feeling that we're watching a textbook of feminist
insights into rape. The result is a near miss, an intelligent, serious film
that never quite overcomes its didactic origins.
movie involves a year in the life of a young French woman (Nathalie Nell) who
works as a visiting nurse and is engaged to an Army trainee. She makes her
rounds on a motor scooter, and that makes her vulnerable one day when she's
followed out of a gas station by a van load of loutish young men. They force
her to the side of the road, throw her into their van, take her to a secluded
shed, and brutally gang rape her.
scenes of rape are particularly painful to watch, and the film dwells on them:
The director, Yannick Bellon, apparently wants to make this rape so graphic and
brutal that its force will reverberate through the whole film. After it is
over, the woman is dumped by the side of the road, is taken to a hospital, and
begins the slow process of physical and psychic recovery.
film follows the aftermath of the rape with meticulous detail: Key scenes
involve the clinical aspects of a hospital, the awkward attempt by a friendly
doctor to relate to his patient, the woman's initial decision to lie to her
mother about what happened, and the chilling dialog they have when she finally
does tell her that she was raped.
most difficult thing for her to do is tell her fiancé, when he comes home on
leave from the Army. Her mother, indeed, would have counseled against telling
him: "You know how men are about things like that." The fiancé's
reaction is one of rage ("I'll kill those bastards with my bare
hands"), but he seems to interpret the rape as an affront to himself.
"What about ME?" the woman finally screams.
also is the matter of whether to report the rape and bring charges. After the
woman accidentally discovers the identity of one of her attackers, she does
press charges, and then is placed under severe pressure to drop them: The wife
of one rapist pleads on behalf of her children, and the parents of another
offer a bribe. But the woman stands by her decision, and then the closing
scenes involve the trial, in closed chambers before a woman judge who is as
quick as any man to wonder if the victim was really "leading on" the
Nell is interesting in the leading role: She completely involves our sympathy
in the scenes directly relating to the rape, and then she projects a fierce
determination to see justice enforced after her attackers are identified. And
yet she doesn't overact or escalate her performance into heroic dramatic
pyrotechnics. We sense her character as an ordinary young woman with a strongly
developed sense of character, who sees very clearly what must be done.
performance and Bellon's intelligent direction make this film a worthy
undertaking. But I'm forced to one reluctant objection: Scene after scene,
there's the sense in "Rape of Love" that the film is a cinematic
feminist textbook. The film's ideologically correct and meticulously observant,
but it lacks the elusive spark that would make it an artistic experience as
well as an educational one.