Bye Bye Blondie: Film Review

Shock auteur Virginie Despentes tones it down in this rather tender punk-rock love story.

Provocateur Virginie Despentes tones it down in her latest work, the tale of two lovers who look to rekindle their romance despite a tumultuous past as Sex Pistol-worshipping punk rockers.

Author, director and certified provocateur Virginie Despentes follows up her controversial debut feature, Rape Me, with the far less risqué and much more tenderhearted tale of punked out lesbian love, Bye Bye Blondie. Starring Emmanuelle Beart and Beatrice Dalle as a pair of Sex Pistols-worshipping gals who try to rekindle an affair they began several decades earlier, the film is as cinematically freewheeling as it is emotionally sincere in its portrayal of a star-crossed couple struggling to make it together for a second time. Overseas stints in Francophone and LBGT fests, plus a few art house pick-ups, should keep Blondie on tour after its mid-sized March 21 local release.

Similar to 2000’s X-rated Rape Me (whose French-language title was the much more blunt Fuck Me) in its depiction of amour folle between two volatile femme outcasts, but without that film’s over-the-top onslaught of violence and pornography, this altogether more accessible sophomore effort has Despentes tackling her preferential subjects of feminism and social deviance within the confines of swanky modern-day Paris.

Based on the filmmaker’s own 2006 novel, the story follows the travails of two middle-aged women – successful talk show host Frances (Beart) and scraggly installation artist Gloria (Dalle) – who reunite when the former pops up and invites her long lost b.f.f. to move into a luxurious Left Bank apartment, where she lives in a faux couple with the successful gay writer, Claude (Pascal Greggory).

As the two reboot a relationship that’s both passionate and highly erratic, a series of lengthy flashbacks reveals how they first met as teenagers in a psychiatric hospital, where the young Gloria (Soko) was interned for being too much of a punk-rock rebel. She soon runs into the young Frances (Clara Ponsot), and the two immediately hit it off in their shared love of binge drinking, pill-popping and head banging, until their friendship carries over into a full-blown affair.

But as both the present-day and 80s-set sequences illustrate, the pair is a perfect illustration of that Buzzcocks song “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone you Shouldn’t’ve)?” – off the appropriately titled album Love Bites – and they’re often more of an anathema for one another than a blessing. Yet the heart works in mysteries ways, and despite Gloria’s griping that Frances has sold out to live the Parisian high life, the two could just find some common ground after all.

Much less chaotic than Rape Me, the film is nonetheless hampered by a structure that systematically cuts between the different periods and starts to turn in circles by the third act, echoing a relationship that has many ups and down but no real arc. And while Gloria is depicted as the ultimate punk pariah, Frances remains much more opaque, and the flashbacks don’t really help reveal what makes her tick.

Performances are strong across the board, though relative newcomers Soko (In the Beginning) and Ponsot (The Players) manage to get the upper hand over Beart and Dalle, who tend to creep toward melodrama territory. The various lovemaking scenes are surprisingly toned down for a Despentes oeuvre, allowing the emotions to outweigh the racier aspects of the story.

Action is fitfully captured with handheld cinematography by vet d.p. Helene Louvart (Pina, The Beaches of Agnes), while the soundtrack includes period tracks by artists Lydia Lunch (credited as set photographer), Siouxsie and the Banshees and the French punk outfit Beurrier Noir.


Cast: Emmanuelle Beart, Beatrice Dalle, Soko, Clara Ponsot, Pascal Greggory

Director: Virginie Despentes

Screenwriter: Virginie Despentes, based on her novel

Producer: Cedric Walter, Sebastien de Fonseca, Jean-Yves Roubin, Ruth Waldburger

Director of photography: Helene Louvart

Production designers: Patrick Dechesne, Alain-Pascal Houssiaux, Laurie Colson, Aurore Benoit

Music: Varou Jan

Costume designers: Judy Shrewsbury, Gil Lesage

Editor: Martine Giordano

International sales: Wild Bunch

No rating, 98 minutes