A powerful story of one woman’s quest for vengeance, first-time feature filmmaker Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge is a stunning effort from the French director who not only embraces familiar genre tropes, but defiantly turns them square on their head with her stunning celebration of the unconquerable female spirit. Revenge recently enjoyed its US premiere at Fantastic Fest 2017, and while in Austin, Daily Dead spoke to Fargeat about her approach to this story, collaborating with Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, who portrays Revenge’s heroine, and embracing the challenges of her ambitious project.
Great to speak with you, Coralie, and congratulations on the film. I know you mentioned in your introduction that you struggled with bringing Revenge here, but I'm really glad that you did because it feels like such an essential movie right now. Specifically because right now there's a lot of discussion of some issues that this movie confronts head on and it really connected with me.
Coralie Fargeat: Thank you so much.
I loved the fact that you take all these expectations that come with a story about rape and revenge, and completely turn them upside down. I'd love to hear about your approach to your story and subverting those expectations, because it all makes for a very surprising viewing experience.
Coralie Fargeat: Yeah, I'm a real violent genre movie fan myself. I grew up with them, and for me, they provide a very creative space where I can express myself as a director and a filmmaker. So I really wanted for my first feature to go in that direction, and to be very free to put my vision and my voice in it. And the idea was to embrace all the tropes, all the expectations of the genre and turn it my way. I let myself guide it where I wanted to go and I knew there were directions I didn't want to go that were not at all my sensibility. I also very much wanted to, as you said, take all the tropes we're used to, and totally reverse them and turn the genre upside down in the way they usually present them, and the way women are filmed.
On a visual level, what you created here is absolutely gorgeous, and I love the way that you used those shocking pinks and blues because it played into the themes of this movie so well. I also thought it was very clever how the camera changes the way it shoots Matilda’s character, too, once she goes through this metamorphosis. They were just some really great touches that elevated the overall story beats.
Coralie Fargeat: Oh, thank you. When I start writing, or I start to think about the movie when I'm prepping, I really question myself about the visual universe I want to implement and the ways to make what I have in my story really be felt by the audience. So it goes first by the set decoration and having these few powerful elements that you would remember, like the blue and pink windows. That, in a very simple way, has a very powerful symbolical meaning immediately, and implements something in your mind. But the way I wanted to represent Jennifer at the beginning, I also wanted to totally go 100% in the direction of setting the stage for this very sexy, beautiful Lolita, who is very provocative and at ease with her body and totally assumes it.
And after a while, we reverse that image, where we have this rebirth when she wakes up again on the tree, and she's going to transform into somebody else. During the movie, I love to use symbols to say many things, and the characters as well are, for me, very representative of many different behaviors and many different people that can be symbolized in one character and be very powerful by itself in a way, too.
I love that transition with her character, because she's so confident in the beginning and it's a different kind of confidence that she gets throughout the rest of the movie. I thought it was a really great way to represent the duality of being a woman, where you're expected to be one thing, but yet you're also expected to be all these other things, too. How was it working with Matilda on this character?
Coralie Fargeat: Matilda was a really great find for me. The way it happened, in a way, is very representative of the movie itself. This film was always on the edge. It was a movie that was very difficult to make, very difficult to finance, and it was very fragile to give birth to. And Matilda was the first actress I wanted to cast when I started the casting process, and for different reasons, we started testing in different countries, and I ended up going with another girl from a different country. I started to work with her, and we got really close to shooting, but she started to get scared of the part and she quit the project maybe 15 days before shooting.
It was, of course, like, “Okay, what are we going to do now?” I knew the movie couldn't stop, because we were so close. I had fought too hard to get there, and then I remembered Matilda immediately because she was the one that I could feel had 100% trust in the film and in me. That's what I needed for this film, because the actress was going to literally carry the film on her shoulders. It was going to be tough, it was going to be physical, and I needed this absolute trust to have the actress go through the whole process.
So I called Matilda, and the day after, she was on a plane. We started to rehearse and we started shooting with very little prep time, but that, in a way, had given us this very sharp energy to work within. This was a very hard experience for her, because physically it was very difficult and intense, and she suffered a lot with the cold, with the sun, with all the elements and everything. She went through all that to tell this story, and we were both really supportive of each other and I think all that energy can be seen on screen, especially at the end.
Being the fact that this is your first time doing a full feature, the easy way would have been just to keep everything at the house, because then it’s contained. And yet, you take this movie all over the place, and it feels so big and ambitious. Was it conscious on your part to push yourself on this rather than take the safe route?
Coralie Fargeat: I love to challenge myself. I really love to push the limits and to go far in my abilities and do everything that I want to do. I really loved the idea of where you start off with four people in a house, and then you throw them into the middle of the desert. I also loved the idea of using the landscape to be the reflection of the evolution of the characters. They're becoming more and more lost, more and more wild, more and more crazy, more and more out of control, and by the end, more and more bloody.
For me, what I love when I'm directing is really to create a world of my own visually, and to be able to use all these locations and to make them my own and to make them real, but it's my reality that I’m telling this story in. And in this story, those four characters that are in this desert are essentially fighting their way through hell, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to use this location like that and push these characters to their limits.
In case you missed it, check here to read more of our Fantastic Fest 2017 reviews and interviews, and stay tuned to Daily Dead for more of our festival coverage.