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Exclusive Interview with Revenge director, Coralie Fargeat

Pictured: Actor, Matilda Lutz and Director, Coralie Fargeat Photograph ©Elzbieta Piekacz

Interview with Revenge writer/dir Coralie Fargeat 04/05/2018

Ahead of our first Reclaim The Frame screenings, we interviewed French director Coralie Fargeat. Her debut feature –  the bold and powerful grind-house thriller, Revenge –  is the first film on our Reclaim The Frame tour.

What was the inspiration behind Revenge?

Firstly, it was the idea of the character: a very seductive Lolita who would both turn lots of heads and at the same time arouse violent feelings in men who would think that they could erase her from the face of the earth and no one would really care. And I wanted this character to free herself from this gaze when she is reborn as a very powerful character.

Secondly, I am not interested in creating reality but rather genre films that really transport audiences somewhere else, that are bigger than life. So, my inspiration were films like Kill Bill, Mad Max and Rambo, all of which created strong heroes in powerful cinematic universes.

Apart from a few notable exceptions, genre films overwhelmingly reinforce the dominant (male) gaze. With this in mind, how did you approach the film using your female gaze?

Metaphorically, I wanted to create a really strong message that would make people think about how differently, compared to men, women are talked about and represented, and how this has to change. What I like about genre is the way in which one can talk about serious matters in a very powerful, artistic and entertaining way.

One example is male nudity in the film, especially in the climactic scene, which I included because this type of representation is extremely rare film, and I wanted to people to think about how often we see female nudity by comparison and how this shapes societal attitudes towards women, in terms of objectification, sexism and so on. Art and media strongly influence attitudes towards gender, which are largely unconscious and have become deeply rooted, and I wanted people to question this process.

The objectification of both Jen and Richard function both as a pleasure and critique. Why did you decide to shoot them in this way?

It was very important for Jen to be fully objectified at the beginning of the film, to show that she is at ease with her body and how she uses it, at ease with how she seduces men and attracts male attention. But what I’m trying to get across is that this is not the problem, but rather that the male characters believe that the way she looks authorises them to treat her as though she is to be used and then disposed of like a worthless piece of rubbish. The male gaze in film often implies that women are to blame for acts sexual violence committed against them which is deeply problematic.

Through each male character I wanted to show the different abusive behaviours that, to a large extent, have become normalised in today’s society.

Behaviour that upholds rape culture?

Yes. I had not come across this term before I started making this film, as it is not widely used in France. But since I read about it, I came to realise that this is precisely what the film is about. Many different types of behaviour contribute to rape culture and it will take a great deal of effort to reverse it.

So, after what happened to Jen, I wanted her to be reborn in such a way that she could never be a victim again. She would know how to defend herself. Her existence would no longer depend on the male gaze. She would no longer need any help or authorisation. And she would become more grounded in nature and the elements, which stresses her power. All this is intended to symbolise the way in which women today need to be very ‘loud’ if they are going to have any chance of building an equal society and establishing crucial boundaries.

The ending of the film supports this point, where Jen confronts Richard, the Alpha male character who’s used to being in control, used to bending the world to his own will. But here he is naked, he does not have his leather jacket or his motorbike – he is no longer in control –  and they confront each other on more or less equal terms.

Can you talk about the male characters in the film?

I wanted to challenge the stereotype of the rapist as some sort of deranged, psychopath or stalker and show that it is widespread, even amongst wealthy, educated and so called civilised society, which is even more frightening. And I’m not talking simply about rape but all the different types and levels of abuse that maintain this culture. On social media, for example, I am very shocked at the way women can be insulted and nobody cares, nobody reacts. These are all habits that take root at an early age because boys are not taught how to respect girls/women.

That the characters in the film are ‘respectable’ men says a lot about how society is organised – related to power, to money, to people knowing but not talking about it – that authorises this type of violent and abusive behaviour to happen. I was very interested to read about how the decline in Weinstein’s power stemming from his lack of recent box office successes, played a role in the allegations coming to light. Who knows, if he had continued to be successful, maybe nothing would have changed? It this correlation between power and abuse, deeply rooted and less obvious in social organisations, that really interests me.

And the interesting power dynamic between the three male friends?

Yes, the power dynamics of masculinity were a very important element of the film: you have Richard who is the alpha guy and a stereotype of success who possesses all the tools of masculinity with his money, good looks and toned body. Secondly, there is Stan who is not as handsome, successful and rich and is jealous because what comes easily to Richard does not come so easily for him. And then thirdly you have the big, quiet apparently non-threatening guy, but beneath this exterior there is deep anger and frustration at being the low status man which explodes out of him when events take a turn in the film, revealing an ogre lurking within.

The film has a very distinctive, stylish look. Can you talk about some your stylistic strategies? 

The look and atmosphere of the film are as important, if not more important, than the story itself. I am interested in making films that take you elsewhere and the film’s metaphorical tone, its atmosphere and how tension builds over the course of the story, rely heavily on various stylistic elements. In the beginning of the film, for example, the focus on bodies, the use of colour and the play with sun light on the pool creates a sensual, sexy yet tense atmosphere. After the men attempt to dispose of Jen, similar stylistic approaches as well as the very unreal, trance-like electronic music supports the idea of Jen’s transformation into a being whose body is damaged and bloody but who is grounded in the earth and the natural elements. This happens after she is symbolically reborn from her own ashes, an early guiding image I came up with when I first started to develop the film. When I eventually came up with the idea of the Phoenix beer can and the tattoo, I knew I found the spirit of the movie: it makes Jen really cool and badass, mixing very powerful, metaphorical elements with something as rough and throwaway as a beer can which can also symbolise men. After transforming her in such a unique way and releasing her from her metaphorical cage, I could make her as strong as I wanted, almost like a superhero.

Why is the dialogue in the film both in English and French?

The financing of the film was the key factor behind the decision to combine French and English. Initially, I wanted to shoot the film in French but the finance was not there for this type of genre film from a first-time director in France. We had a similar problem when we looked at switching to English language – the film was too small with no star attached, and I wanted to stick with casting a relative unknown in the lead role. So, we then decided to combine the two, which enabled us to secure enough funding and for me to retain the French characters and dialogue, which is important to me because of my nationality. It also helped universalise the story and its underlying message which is to say that this type of abuse can happen anywhere, so the financial necessities had a very positive impact in the end.

How has the experience of making Revenge changed you?

Well, I have had to a very long path to get to this point, to produce a film that really expresses who I am, and now my hard work and effort has finally blossomed, I feel very happy, very alive. I had to learn a lot about the industry to get the film made: what would appeal to financiers, the importance of selecting the right producer and so on. Now the film is finally out and it is being well received, doors are opening for me and this is giving me a lot of energy. For Matilda (who plays Jen) the experience of making the film has given her confidence and raised her awareness of feminist concerns. She now feels free from the look of others. This is important because confidence can be difficult for women as we are judged a lot and become over-conscious of ourselves in a way that men do not.

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