Director Coralie Fargeat and star Matilda Lutz discuss Revenge, the stigma around genre cinema, mixing humour and violence, and the way victims are still held responsible for being attacked. Read the rest of our TIFF coverage here.
Premiering in the Midnight Madness strand of this year’s TIFF, Coralie Fargeat’s debut feature offers a feminist twist on the rape-revenge film. Italian actress Matilda Lutz plays Jen, a young Lolita spending the weekend with her millionaire lover (Kevin Jannsens) at his remote desert villa. Jen freely flaunts her body to the married man, and when his hunting friends show up to the house, she does not feel like she has to change her behaviour in any drastic way: she still wears the clothes that she usually wears. The men, however, choose to interpret her self-objectification as an invitation. Their inappropriate advances quickly escalate into a violent assault, the consequences of which all of these men — including Jen’s lover — refuse to face: they try to get rid of her. But she will prove to be much more resourceful than they had expected.
Back in Toronto, The Seventh Row talked with director Fargeat and star Lutz about genre cinema and the stigma around it, the film’s mix of humour and violence, and the way victims are still held responsible for being attacked.
Seventh Row (7R): How did you get the idea for Revenge?
Coralie Fargeat: I had this desire to make a genre film because I love genre films. They allow me to create a universe where I can express myself visually and with sound, all the while taking me out of everyday life.
It started with the idea of the character who would be seen as very empty and very weak, at the beginning, but transform into a very powerful, strong, and dark figure. Then, little by little, all the other elements came — the desert, etc… But the basis was the character and her transformation.'That’s what I love about genre: it tells about human dreams and imagination, neuroses and fears.'Click To Tweet
7R: You studied at the famous French film school La Fémis. Is there a stigma around genre films in France, and more specifically in school, when you were learning how to make films?
Coralie Fargeat Totally. I did the Atelier scénario course at La Fémis [screenwriting class]. I first arrived with a project that was completely genre. It was about a woman who thinks that she’s being chased and attacked by insects, and she goes crazy. When I came to the workshop with that idea, everyone looked at me like I was an alien! It’s not at all the kind of projects that are usually read and developed there. I definitely had to fight twice as hard to have my film made, because it’s not the kind of films that we usually do and respect in France.
Genre isn’t really part of French cinema culture, so it’s way more difficult to make your way with genre films. But that’s the kind of films I like. I love Dario Argento’s films, because they are so strange and philosophical, in a way. That’s what I love about genre: it really tells about human dreams and imagination, neuroses and fears.'If I had been younger, I would have been scared. You need to be confident to play a role like that.'Click To Tweet
7R: Were you in any way influenced or inspired by French cinema?
Coralie Fargeat: All the movies I watch feed me, in a way. What I love in French cinema is that although there aren’t many genre films, there are many films that are so rich and truly carried by a director’s specific vision — even if they’re completely different in terms of genre or story.'Playing a character who goes through that transformation taught me so much. I feel so changed.'Click To Tweet
7R: Did being a woman make it harder for you to make a genre film, specifically?
Coralie Fargeat: I wouldn’t say it made it harder… I think it was a very specific situation. At the beginning, it’s intriguing: “Oh! A woman who wants direct genre?” So it can give you a sort of positive spotlight, at the start. But in the end, and in the financing process, it wasn’t easier at all.
You only get the credibility once you’ve done something. For a first feature, it’s always difficult to have people trust you. What helped me, in my experience, was to have directed my previous short film. It was a sci-fi short film — a completely different story and genre from Revenge. But it showed that I could create these kinds of universes remote from everyday life. People could more easily imagine what I was going to do with this movie.
7R: Matilda, how did you get involved in Revenge?
Matilda Lutz: I was in Paris doing meetings, because I would love to work in France, and I met Coralie’s agent. I went back to Los Angeles, and the agent said that Coralie was going to be in L.A. to meet girls for her movie, and we should meet. I’m actually the first actress that Coralie met for the project!
I auditioned one morning at 6 a.m. in the hotel, because that was the only time we had. She was leaving, and I was leaving, too. She asked me to send self-tapes, with a blonde wig — because I’m usually brunette — nails, and makeup, to see if I could play Jen. This character is a sexy, Lolita type, and I don’t usually look that way!
Later, I got a call, and she told me that it was great to meet, but she was going to cast another girl. But this girl dropped out because she got scared. Another girl was cast, but while they were in rehearsal fittings, she got scared, too. I got a call on Friday; on Sunday, I was on a plane. We started shooting a week later. I think it was meant to be!
7R: So you weren’t scared of playing this character?
Matilda Lutz: No, I actually loved each part of this project. I loved the fact that I could really play two different characters, and I loved the story. I have to be honest: for all the scenes that are very hard to watch, Coralie made me feel super comfortable on set. It was never scary that way. But I’m 26, even though I look younger. I feel like if I had been younger, I would have probably been scared. Because you need to be confident to play a role like that. You need to be comfortable with your partners on set, to trust that they will respect you.
I guess it’s timing, as well. The movie helped me in my personal life. I used to be really concerned about what people thought of me, about how people perceived me, and my body. I was always so self-conscious about my body — “Oh, my boobs aren’t big enough,” “My butt isn’t nice enough,” — all those anxieties that girls often have.'I wanted a character that can be as seductive as she wants, and that is never an excuse to harm her.'Click To Tweet
I’m sure that playing a character who goes through that transformation, and that working with Coralie — who is so strong herself, telling people what she wants and never giving up — taught me so much in my life. I feel so changed. It was a five weeks shoot, so it wasn’t that long, but it really feels like I went to school for a year! It was a big change, and now I don’t care anymore.
I’m not a big social media person, but I use it, and I like it. I will admit that. I used to be so concerned about what people would tweet about me, but I just got one tweet that said something really mean and angry about me. And I know that, a year ago, I probably would have been really upset about it. But now, I understand better that not everyone is going to like me. I have to be myself, and whoever likes me, likes me; whoever doesn’t, whatever. It really helped me with my personal life.
7R: In the film, the character is initially treated by others like a superficial, pretty girl. No one really cares about her. Usually, in rape-revenge films, the girl attacked is the opposite: someone who is more intellectual, as though this would make the attack more unfair. In Revenge, it’s very refreshing to see a character who knows that she is beautiful, never hides that, even after she’s attacked, and proves to be very resourceful.
Coralie Fargeat: I wanted a character that could be as superficial, seductive, and sexy as she wanted to be, and that never being an excuse for anyone to harm her. That’s a real problem: women are made responsible for what others do to them, even though they are the victims.
I pushed everything in the film to the extreme because I wanted that message to be loud and clear. I didn’t want to be timid about it or only go halfway there. Sure, the film is very symbolic, exaggerated, and unrealistic, in some ways. But it was important for me to make the message very clear: she can be as sexy and seductive as she wants, it should never be a problem.
7R: Jen is objectified at the beginning of the film, but also after the attack, and for the remainder of the movie. Why did you make that choice?
Coralie Fargeat: From the beginning to the end, the character stays with her body. That’s just a fact. I didn’t want a metaphor where, because she becomes stronger, she starts to cover herself. She has her body, and from the beginning to the end, she can do whatever she wants with it. She is who she is, and she can be strong even if she’s still wearing a bikini and is covered in blood. Keeping her like that was also a way to have her sort of return to a primal state — an animal that doesn’t need any artifice or accessories to be strong and powerful. I think it’s empowering. You don’t need any things to have the power; just be yourself.
7R: What is also very striking in the film is the humour, which is a little unexpected when you read the synopsis of the film. Why did you want to make the film funny, as well?
Matilda Lutz: I didn’t know it myself! I saw the movie, and I was so surprised.'I didn’t want a metaphor where, because the character becomes stronger, she covers herself.'Click To Tweet
7R: You didn’t know there were going to be funny moments?
Matilda Lutz: No! For example, the scene where the man hurts his foot. I thought it was going to be super dramatic and serious. But because of Coralie’s choice to make it really long, and to show the man’s face in close-ups that way, it made the scene funny — which I think is genius!
Coralie Fargeat: I think it’s because I love humour, and because for me, real wildness and craziness always goes with some kind of humour. It’s people having nervous breakdowns, losing all control and sense of limits. There is a contrast. For example, I love movies like Fargo, where people are going nuts. For me, the power and philosophy of violence in movies kind of always comes with some humour, as well. I think it’s also something I have in me and that I like, so I love to put it in my projects.'The power and philosophy of violence in movies always comes with humor, as well.' — Coralie Fargeat Click To Tweet
7R: Are you working on another project?
Coralie Fargeat: I have another project. It’s still in the very early stages, but it’s also about a woman. It would be a completely different story, but it’s still in construction.