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Revenge: An interview with director Coralie Fargeat and lead actress Matilda Lutz
May 17, 2018
Revenge is a shocker of a film, in the most gruesomely gory of ways, where a rape and an brutally violent murder attempt leads to a total female emancipation. And underneath the veneer of brutality, horror and copious amount bloodshed there is a feminist undercurrent, buried deep in there somewhere. Revenge is genre movie that keeps you permanently on alert as one painstaking anticipation merges into the next, as Jen (Matilda Lutz) is put through the mill shedding her old skin of a harmless Instagram bombshell to a battered and hardened heroine seeking retribution. This the first full-length feature by French writer/ director Coralie Fargeat and stars Italian actor/ model Matilda Lutz as a Jen; both of which spared a couple of minutes for the briefest of chats at the film’s press junket last week.
Jen is a young American socialite having a casual affair with married billionaire Richard (Kevin Jansenns), who whisks her away to his remote modernist glassed villa in the Moroccan desert for a long weekend of sex and hunting. Soon enough they are joined by Richard’s seedy-looking hunting buddies, Stan and Dimitri. An evening of drink, a touch of drugs and Matilda’s titillating dancing is of course misinterpreted as come on by Stan, who in the absence of Richard, proceeds to rape her under the inert watchful eye of Dimitri. Richard comes back to confronted with the mess, Jen insists they leave, but Richard is reluctant to let her go, worried his wife and kids back home will find out. As Jen tries to escape, the men run after here, with Richard startlingly pushes her off a cliff. She lands on a tree stump and in the unlikeliest of circumstances she survives. She wakes up, all bloody and unruly with a branch protruding through her lower abdomen, manages to slowly and cleverly free herself by setting the tree alight. Now anger-fuelled and looking for a way out of the desert, she embarks on a purposeful, if ham-fisted, vengeance path against her brutal perpetrators.
Fargeat pokes fun at various widespread stereotypical assumptions. She intentionally stylizes Jen in a Lolita-esqque, innocent yet highly sexualized look; prancing around the lounge in a miniscule bright coloured bikini, sucking a lollipop and of course this would interpreted as invitation for sex. The way in which Dimitri approaches her initially belittiling, then cornering her. This theme carries out throughout the film, these men’s constant underestimation of Jen despite slowly and agonizingly obliterating them, one by one. Its as if they cant possibly fathom they would beaten and killed by someone as her, cuting right through to the core of their manhood. And this is where Fargeat successfully captures this feminist angle, in challenging these men’s innate preconceptions and the victimization and total disregard they show toward Jen.
However lest not this deter from the fact that Jen’s emancipation is at a high cost, a violent and gory one at that. And what is even trickier is making this retribution and her empowered transition appear convincing. This is what concerned Lutz mostly, coming across as sincere, she explains “there were certain scenes, that I was wondering how to justify it. I tend to be very rational as a person. The scene where I wake up from being pushed down the cliff with the branch coming out of my body. I mean, how can this happen? It’s not a realistic. But its making Jen’s reaction to these events believable and thus her transformation through all that felt very genuine”.
This does come across successfully; mainly through Fargeat’s use of small details. Jen’s bewildered facial expression ranging from fear, bewilderement and exasperation. Holding her gun, the muuzzle all shakey as any first timer would be, resisting to cry from the horror of it all or managing to the inital stumbling into the hands of her perpetrator. Jen is obviously a newbie at all tis killing stuff. It’s a clumsy emancipation, based on sheer willingness to survive first and full on rage second. The obvious conclusion and driving force if she doesn’t kill them first, they will be after her.
Fargeat tackles genre film with Revenge, a genre not known to be frequented by many female directors . I wasn’t sure what a genre film is; I mean doesn’t every film fall into some sort of genre category. But apparently, it’s a euphemism for ‘gruesome horror’ as if it needed further clarification. Well the film is guesome, sensationally gruesome, there is so much blood, body mutilation and physical pain, its gloriously OTT. When I asked Fargeat what made her make film, that some consider would consider a more masculine genus, it seemed that it is what came most naturally for her to do. “I am very huge fan of genre film. I watched a lot of those films, when I was younger. It’s what built my cinematography from Carpenter, Cronenberg, Tarantino to South Korean movies. It’s true, that its mostly done by male directors but now with more women arriving in the industry they want to deal with all types of films and not just the ones thats expected of them to do”.
When I flagged up to Fargeat that she was one of two females from numerous directors that I got to interview all year, she didnt seem suprised but was upbeat about the future.”I feel that things are starting to change a bit; but I guess if you are looking at figures; things are not equal at all. But definitely there is a generation of female directors that are starting to and there is more of them coming through. Also there is diversity starting to come through in what films they choose to make. I was trying to think of other female directors that take on more action-focused and very few come to mind, such as Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, The Hurt Locker) or PAddy Jenkins with Wonder Woman.
You can see Frageat’s visual references of Tarantino, even other 90s genre classics such as Natural Born Killers. There is a cultish theme to Revenge, a scene in the cage with a montage full of symbolism and filmic references. Jen retreats into a cave is having to deal with removing the thick branch protruding through her lower abdomen, endless amounts of blood trickling down, she decides to remove it and then seal the wound. All is made possible with the help of some magic mushrooom stashed away in her locket; the point where Frageat injects a tance-like surreal, supernatural moment full of symbolism. She explains the scene as “its meant to be a trance and for us to go quite deep of what the character feels. I wanted through Jen to go to this total unreal place. Also the music is a strong element as it guided the editing. And on set I would play some kind of weird classical sci-fi music, very strange. To bring this sort of supernatural feel to proceedings, an atmosphere”.
She further adds “I was playing with old symbols, because it created a distance between Jen and her body. For her, like it was fascinating, in that hallucinogenic state, to watch the blood pouring from her own body. But at the same time enough sense through her tripping to impose a robotic frame of mind to do stuff, like remove the stick and close the wound, and she is so high she doesn’t feel the pain”. Its an intensely absorbing scene, visually assaulting and simultaneously a break and regrouping from the incessant chase of previous scenes. Lutz adds that in that scene is where she had let go of realism “Coralie told me to just go for it and not care about realism and take her direction and do whatever she thinks its right. We tried it many times and we got different takes. And of course, it all came together in editing”.
Revenge is effortlessly cool and stylistically simple, but posseses a violent edge. The theme and the extremes that all the characters go through give it acultish, controversial edge. It goes without saying, that the female angle is very much taps into zeitgeist of the time, but it would be reductive to base the film soley on that.
Revenge is out now.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_