Baby Blood (1990)

Baby Blood first published by

The events of Alain Robak’s Baby Blood may gestate mostly over nine months in late-Eighties France, but it has a much broader spatiotemporal canvas. For it begins with “the beginning of the world”, in an African swamp that is also the cradle of life – and its implied ending will not reach its proper maturity until some sixty billion years after the film itself finishes. It is narrated by a parasitic entity (the voice of ‘Roger Placenta’, in fact Robak himself) that has been, and will be, around throughout all these epochs, but which longs to be “born – like everybody else.” Brought over to a circus in Northern France inside a male cheetah that has been captured in Central Africa, this creature spooks the other wild cats before messily abandoning its host and transferring itself to the vaginal passage of circus performer Yanka (Emmanuellle Escourrou).

That, seemingly, is where every man wishes to go, unable to resist Yanka’s shapely, fertile curves – which drives her boyfriend, the abusive circus owner Lohman (Christina Sinniger), to acts of violent jealousy. So Yanka, now pregnant, flees Lohman and runs away from the circus, initially taking up residence in a run-down tenement apartment. There, she is part-encouraged part-bullied part-blackmailed by her unborn – yet very talkative – baby to murder others for their blood. For this most patient of creatures, in its very long-term plan to evolve to global dominance, must share not only Yanka’s pulsing, mothering blood, but also that of the many men against whom Yanka bumps and grinds in her bid for independence – and these men, ruled by their aggression and sexual drives, do not come out of these encounters looking pretty, as Yanka proves even more predatory than they are in protecting and feeding what’s inside her. Like that creature, Yanka herself seems a missing link, caught both between internalised feminine and masculine impulses (nurture!, attack!) and between past and future – or more specifically between the seductive slaughter of Andrzej Zulawski’s earlier Possession (1981) and the embryonic instigations of Alice Lowe’s later Prevenge (2016). 

watch out for the sequel

It is hard to tell whether Yanka is carrying an actual primordial lifeform, or merely an atavistic psychology born of mistreatment, trauma and desperation. Her conversations with her foetus, which to onlookers come with all the appearance of a disturbed woman talking to herself, certainly resonate with notions of mental illness – and as the film goes on, and Yanka’s murders become more frequent and more baroque, passers-by never comment on, or seem even to notice, her increasingly bloody state, suggesting it may be all in her mind – or her gut. It may even be a phantom pregnancy. So perhaps this is just the story of an isolated woman’s derangement, with her own internal struggles externalised as slasher-like psychodrama. Yet even on this reading, both Yanka and the creature’s unhappy lives, ‘starting’ from a mother’s womb and ‘ending’ with a return to the primal ooze, allegorises the experience, brutal and short, of us all in our Darwinian race to genetic perpetuation, while satirising some of the worst and most pathetic aspects of a world governed by “men’s rules”. Indeed, the schizophrenic scenario of Baby Blood plays out like a newly feminised version of Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage (1988) – and that shifting of genders makes a world of difference to the film’s conception of life itself as a bloody battle of the sexes.

Summary: Vagina monologues: Alain Robak brings an epoch-spanning genetic perspective to his monster movie of maternity and madness.

© Anton Bitel