Revenge! We all want it. Two months after French director Coralie Fargeat had completed production on her feature debut, the organs of entertainment media began demanding it. From mediocre comedians and middling producers, to hack actors and talk-show personalities: revenge! What truths the system cannot satisfy, it can manufacture in endless quantities — was that Adorno? — and while it’s not quite the revenge demanded in personal essays and opinion pieces, Fargeat’s Revenge is a brilliant genre piece arriving at the perfect time. Its subject is Jen (Matilda Lutz), who kills various stand-ins for these rich, middlebrow celebs plaguing the news cycle. Filmed in a joyfully garish parody of the cinematic male gaze, the movie has so much that so many wanted to explain. “We feel surprised by what Jen is capable of, which is another way of reminding us that the eyes we have been seeing her through until that point are ones which have underestimated her,” wrote Olivia Ovenden at Esquire. “Male entitlement and presumptions of privilege are what Fargeat’s film aims to obliterate,” wrote Jen Yamato for the Los Angeles Times.
For me, Revenge was fun because of how cannily it disdained with what A.S. Hamrah recently termed “the rampant backstory-mongering of genre movies starring women.” Who was Jen, anyway? She enters with a lollipop and leaves drenched in sinner’s blood. She’s vulnerable, she’s invincible! She’s dead, she’s alive! She’s Lolita, she’s Jesus! It wasn’t a surprise that Fargeat’s influences were all stories about the kind of stylized men who live in the crisp self-aware dreams of cultishly beloved cinema fare.
On the eve of the movie’s arrival on Shudder’s horror-themed streaming service, I gave Fargeat a call. Earlier this year, Fargeat had told the Financial Times that “the Hollywood doors are opening for me now,” but she tells me that she hopes the next film she makes will be her own. “I think you build your career as much by saying no as by saying yes.”
FSR: Did you expect the response that ‘Revenge’ got?
Of course, I was hoping the movie would find an audience but each month brought new surprises. In France, we call it a snowball effect. From the reception at Toronto to the rights being sold in each country, which has given me a great audience that I would never have expected.
How long was it between coming up with the idea of the film and making it?
It was pretty quick. I started to think about the idea for maybe a year before I started to write it. it came to me just before I did a short film [2014’s “Reality+.”]. And it was just the idea of this girl, this sexy Lolita-baby doll girl who would be seen in a certain way and have her sexuality assumed in a certain way. It really started to build into a revenge-genre movie when I started to write it. And when I started to write it I felt an urge to make it into my first feature And there was a kind of innocence to making something without any expectations. There was a kind of purity in making a movie for the first time.
How difficult did you find making a first picture?
It was kind of a fight, for sure. Especially, considering in France, genre films almost don’t exist. There’s a reputation that they’re impossible to make in France, so I knew there were going to be a lot of obstacles. I was ready to break all the doors for it. I knew it would not be easy. I was ready to convince people that this was a movie that needed to be done.
The main thing was convincing people that I was obsessed with the film. I actually made a very short trailer, that I edited and put together myself and put some heavy electronic music on — you know, Carpenter-kind of electronic music. And that was really what convinced people to hear that I was a special voice. And it was like one minute of stuff, all mostly handmade images, but the soul of the movie was there.
How did you feel about the angle that was attached to it, being the-first-woman-to-direct-a-rape-revenge-movie?
That was definitely something people noticed. Making this kind of a movie as a woman was not very usual, especially in France. Though I wish it wasn’t true, the truth is that there is really not that many genre films being made by women in France. And so it was something that brought a special light on the project and something that gave the project a kind of a personality and made people think, ‘maybe there is something happening here.’ And I think that the fact that the movie really met its time, with #MeToo happening exactly two months after the movie was finished.
Did making Revenge feel like a political act?
Yes, definitely. And I think genre films are very political movies, I think that’s what I liked about the genre films I liked when I was younger. They felt like very powerful expressions about politics and society or inner fears or both, the fear of fitting into society or the fear of being rejected. There are really too many to name.
What did you watch while you were making Revenge?
When I started to write the film out, I knew I didn’t want to go into horror — the movie isn’t a horror film. I wanted it to be very violent but have that violence feel very primal, very unreal in a phantasmagoric kind of way. So, I watched movies that felt bigger than the fact and that felt like they were taking me as a spectator into different dimensions. I remember we watched the original Mad Max, Kill Bill, Deliverance… Steven Spielberg’s Duel, which was so minimal and was able to build so much with so few elements. All these movies allowed me to get away from reality and get into building something else.
Does Jen survive at the end?
Yes, for me, she defiantly survives. I like the fact that the end is open like that and, for her, it’s the end of a long journey, after finding the revenge that’s at the end of her journey. In a way, she is reborn and becomes someone else and she escapes her former reality. The reality of her existence doesn’t matter anymore.
I’ve heard some people say they feel like the second half is all sorta her dream.
It definitely can be read that way. Part of her entirely dies on that tree. When she wakes up, she’s totally reborn. When I was working on the writing and editing of that scene, I was using a lot of symbolical images… when she falls on the tree, it’s like a crucifixion and her old self is dead and there is a new self that is born.
What are you working on next?
For now, I’m writing a new feature film. It’s still in the beginning and I’m circling around different ideas, finding the right door for me to connect to the story.
There’s also a number of projects that are coming in from the States, for directing — namely TV or commercials. But I fancy myself only going on material that I can really respond to. I know that I need to be totally passionate in order to do something that’s going to last two years. But going through those doors are definitely really interesting, so I keep reading things I have been sent. Though, I do hope my next feature will be the one I’m writing right now.
Does it feel very different from Revenge?
It’s too soon to talk about the subject but I think it’ll be a violent way of telling that story. I love genre, and my next movie will still be a genre film, but in a different kind and it will share a lot of my obsessions that I see in everything I make.
What are they?
I’m very obsessed with the way people are seen by society. The image people reflect and the image people see you through and what they can project on you because of the way you present yourself. The fear of behaving well or not well in society and this goes, also, I think, it’s related to an obsession with your relationship to death and mortality. I think that in life, this image obsession is really related to our own mortality, especially when you’re a woman. You define yourself by how you are seen or how you present yourself and how people are judging you or seeing you. A lot my work circles around those obsessions and I like to relate them to the body and how the body can be sexualized, how the body can have a very strong connection to the natural elements.
What kind of movies do you watch to satisfy those obsessions?
One of the filmmakers that really impacted me as a teen was David Cronenberg, all those relationships to the flesh and to transforming the body and how that changes how you can be seen — a movie like Fly is a perfect example of this. And movies like eXistenZ, which had a very weird way of dealing with the body, with sexuality and with violence or Crash, which was where he was dealing with death and sex at the same time.
I was also influenced by filmmakers like Carpenter, especially The Thing — I love the paranoia of that film. Everybody can be a potential alien or an enemy. Simple and very strong element for a movie. Also David Lynch, in the way he really deals with his own universe and makes his own world. And [Michael] Haneke, especially how he deals with violence — he’s one of the most violent filmmakers, in a very simple way and in movies like Benny’s Video and Funny Games, movies that are very unbearable to watch, but in very simple ways. I think this is really brilliant.
Some of those directors later hit Hollywood and tried to bring those obsessions to the studio system. Is that something you’d want to do?
I think you build your career as much by saying no as by saying yes. You have to be faithful and sincere with what you want to do. I do think there’s a way to build films in the Hollywood system that can be faithful to yourself, really I think it’s more a matter of being surrounded by the right people who want to make the same film as you. One filmmaker I admire in that regard is Paul Verhoeven, who has made such great movies with a dark touch in the Hollywood system and then he went back to France.
Has there been anything you turned down?
Yes, there have been projects I didn’t want to do. When you do a movie, you have to be passionate about it. When you write your own material, you have so much more power in how it’s carried out. Watching someone like [Quentin] Tarantino, whether you like him or not, he’s creating something that’s only him. Whatever I do, I want to make a movie that’s like that, that has a soul in it.
Revenge is currently available on Shudder and Amazon.