A year after Julia Ducournau’s Raw shocked audiences the world over with its bold and darkly comic story of hereditary cannibalism, another French first-time director is behind one of this year’s best and most original genre films. Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge updates the controversial rape-revenge movie for the 21st century, with a feminist perspective that goes deeper into the roots of sexual violence than most classics of the genre. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, the film also manages to be a madly entertaining, deeply funny, visually stunning treat.
We talked to Coralie Fargeat about the genesis of the project, opting for sharp characterisation, and turning movie violence into an artistic gesture.
Why did you choose to have your first feature film be a genre film? Are you a lover of genre?
I’m a fan of genre. It’s the cinema that made me grow as a cinephile then as a filmmaker. What I love in cinema is the possibility to create universes outside of reality, universes which don’t exist in real life. I was a fan of the first Star Wars movies and of Indiana Jones; later, I loved films that were a little darker, such as Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers and Robocop, or David Cronenberg with The Fly. These films brought me into a different universe, and allowed their filmmakers to create something new from scratch, to let their imagination run wild. For my first feature, I really wanted to do something along those lines, and I also wanted to explore the freedom that genre cinema has: it allows you to go to the extremes, beyond measure, logic, and all the limits that other kinds of cinema might have.
How did you get the idea of making a rape-revenge film?
I didn’t actually aim to explore the rape-revenge genre at all! I was never really attracted to it and haven’t seen many rape-revenge films apart from The Last House On The Left. The idea for Revenge came from the “revenge movie” — films like Rambo, Mad Max, Kill Bill, where the character is crushed and has to rely on their inner resources to stand up again and take revenge. These films inspire me because they transcend the simple stories they tell through a truly cinematic idea: they create a phantasmagorical universe. By contrast, the rape-revenge genre remains rather realistic and focuses on the event itself, which wasn’t what I wanted Revenge to be centred on.
Instead, I wanted to see how this character could be crushed not only by the rape itself, but also by the way she is perceived. Because Jen (Matilda Lutz) is a woman, because she presents herself in a frivolous and sexy manner, because she plays with her seducing power — to the men from the film, these are good reasons to consider her worthless. They think they can do whatever they want with her, make her shut up, get rid of her, and move on. It is this dimension of the situation that I wanted to study. It was important to make clear that the violence that Jen suffers isn’t random, but due to the way she is perceived. The rape, in the end, is only an extreme manifestation and also a symbol of this violence.
Why are some of the characters French?
I initially wrote the film in French, but I knew that this kind of film was difficult to finance in France, so I kept a door open for a more international aspect to the film. This mix of languages is basically what allowed us to finance it — to get financing from France, all the while having this international value. In the end, having the film in English was also coherent with the narrative and in line with the universality of the topic. But I wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t worked with the story.
How did you construct the character of Jen?
I wanted unambiguous, extreme characterisation. At first, she’s the icon of the Lolita: ultra sexy and sensual, with her body a real means of expression, and a fascinating power of attraction.
Then, I really worked on the idea of moulting — the way insects abandon a dead part of themselves, and continue their lives in a second form. It’s a metamorphosis, like the phoenix reborn from its ashes, feeding on a mystical power it is infused with in its second form. I wanted Jen to stay in tune with her body and sensations, and to get closer to the elements and to something almost animalistic inside her. I liked the idea of a character who needed almost nothing except herself to reborn and be strong — that’s why I didn’t want her to have to cover herself when she starts hunting the men down. She’s barefoot, and her scars become almost a superhero costume. She only gets a tattoo, which becomes a sort of shield that infuses her with an almost magical strength.
She transforms herself, but remains sexy.
I think that what needs to change isn’t her appearance, but the way others perceive her. She’s always been strong, because she always assumed who she was. She’s just found a new way to use her body, to express her strength in a body that remains totally hers and that she doesn’t need to change. I wanted to stay very close to that body — the body of the woman, which is at the centre of the discourse.
What about the men in the film?
I think this kind of story, where I play with symbolic elements, works best with black-and-white characters. So, very early on, I chose to make no concessions — I wrote them as total bastards, each one embodying a facet of power and coercion. There’s the aggressive one who thinks he is allowed to use this girl; the one who says nothing; and the one who wants to get rid of her as soon as she gets in his way. That’s her boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens). He only likes Jen when she makes him look good and is something he can have fun with.
The film is also really funny, which is quite unexpected.
Humour emerged early on as a really important element of the project. I asked myself how I wanted to deal with the violence, and I knew I didn’t want the sadistic, realistic kind that we often find in horror films.
I wanted phantasmagoric and operatic violence, like in South-Korean cinema, where the baroque and excessive aesthetic of violence transforms it into something more artistic than nasty. It acts as a filter between the film and reality. Humour is another filter, because it allows the filmmaker to underline the crazy aspects of the characters. It’s very important for me to have that filter, because it turns violence into a cinematic gesture and allows me to construct something cinematic with it.
Revenge is in UK cinemas today. Read our review here.