French Frights: Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge

The first rape-and-revenge movie directed by a female director.

Basile Lebret
Feb 11 · 5 min read
A women covered in blood is seen looking upon her shoulder in a desert.

At the beginning of it all, there’s a little girl who thinks that the feminine world is centred around avoiding danger. Thanks to her brother and grandfather, Coralie Fargeat, who would go on to direct Revenge, begins to watch genre movies: Mad max, Robocop, Rambo. Armed with a camera she even shoots a remake of Star Wars.

Coralie doesn’t instinctively direct herself towards film studies. She first enters Science Po, France’s most famous school, and after two years she wants to qui studying. But then a film production takes place in the building she studies in, she speaks to some crew member and gets her first job in the movie industry. Soon, she enters the Femis, France’s most renown film school — Julia Grave Ducournau went through there — and discovers that the movies she wants to make, genre movies to be precise, aren’t exactly what production company wants to release.

But the aspiring filmmaker isn’t one to quit. She first directs a short film Le Télégramme. Sadly, she hasn’t got any full-length feature project in the works so she cannot capitalize on the success of this first experience. Seeing the incompatibility of French production system and her need for directing genre movies, she soon forms, alongside a band of 7 other directors, a group named La Squadra, they met in a bar twice a week, inviting veteran of the industry, trying to find way to go around a system which seems not to want them.

Coralie then directs Reality+ another short film, sci-fi this time. This flick grants us the Audi Talent Awards and will become her golden ticket to try and sell her new project. It’s named Revenge, it tells the story of a young Lolita, proud of her body, who gets abused and raped and whom people tries to kill in order to conceal their misdeeds. For this how society treats beautiful women according to Fargeat. As empty, beautiful vessels. replaceable. Believe it or not, the director hadn’t even heard of rape culture at this point.

A woman is seen holding a rifle towards the viewer in a patio setting.

Fargeat wrote the screenplay in over a year. It’s allegedly while writing the script that she had the idea of the rape scene, meaning she never intended Revenge to be “the first rape & revenge directed by a female filmmaker” contrary to what the marketing would later say. Truth is, she wasn’t even familiar with the rape & revenge genre, having only seen Craven’s The Last House on the Left. Nope, no I Spit on Your Grave. Truth is, you’ll be hard pressed to find the filmmaker defining her movie other than as a revenge movie or a survival.

Fargeat’s real motivation was to make a female revenge movie, her inspiration being Mad Max, Kill Bill and First Blood. In order to sell it to production, she even shot a sort a of proof of concept she edited onto some Carpenter Brut music. Which is interesting, see, according to Fargeat since there is only 14 minutes of dialog in the whole film her script contained both her protagonist thoughts and also a really accurate description of what she intended to show. In retrospect, it’s weird noticing the similarities between the colour grading of the final product and Ana Lilly Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, released only a year prior.

Yet, despite the smart marketing which would come, the project wasn’t easy to get off the ground. Fargeat has a way of saying it: “At first, people think a woman wanting to make a genre film is intriguing.” But intriguing doesn’t mean anyone will put any money down. It seems the producers of Refn’s Drive were once involved but declined for they could not see any big star name attached to it. Hence why the project was written in French, in English and a bunch of different language. The script evolved as the team were trying to get funds. This is why the final product is mostly in English with only a few titbits’ still in French. A nod from the filmmaker to her native country.

At first, a Dutch actress was supposed to be the lead but she got cold feet two weeks from the beginning of the shoot. A sad event we can somehow link to the filmmaker saying her lead at to walk around half naked on very cold days for the movie was shot on 33 days — one in Paris and 32 in the Moroccan desert — during the month of February and sometimes the temperature would go as low as 2°C. But then mainly because of the multitude of languages, Fargeat states she casted all over the world, and when her first choice dropped the ball, she instantly turned towards Matilda Lutz who flew to France in less than 48 hours.

The actress said that the shooting was deeply physical and she got dirty feet for over a month after the production had ended. And reading through some of the interview Coralie gave, you can see that production was so tough, she feared her lead would leave on certain day. Laying under a desert sun for hours on end can do that to any performer.

Two things could be mentioned about the last scene, the first is that Fargeat herself poured blood all over the set, which made it a nightmare for fake blood makes people slip but also glue, so there were actors and technician sticking to one another or to the decorum. This overdose of blood she wanted it as a nod to South Korean flicks — although it personally reminds me of Sono Sion’s Cold Fish finale. The other thing is the nakedness of the main antagonist was inspired by Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises action scene where Viggo Mortensen fights naked.

In the end, the movie got screened both at Toronto and Sundance, and found a distributor in the US quite easily. Interestingly enough, the movie got released in 2017, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the whole Weinstein affair. Fargeat says there’s some form of Magic in releasing art which resonates with its surrounding even though no one can predict the future.

I for one think this is true, but still find it distressing that Coralie Fargeat fought so hard to produce her flick, as a way to show everyone that genre film could exist in France, yet, in the end, the UK DVD release possesses more bonus features than the edition released in France.

Whether she is fighting for feminism or French genre movie. I’m sure Fargeat’s fight isn’t over.

Stay tuned for next week we’ll talk about the search of the first found footage flick!

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