Revenge Director Coralie Fargeat Talks Influences and Challenging Genre Tropes
Upon its release in 2017, Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge was one of the most talked about genre films of the year. It rewrites the rape-revenge tropes and the male gaze by creating a fierce protagonist, Jen (Matilda Lutz), who transforms from a Lolita-like character into a fierce hunter. She brings forth a much-deserved reckoning upon the men who left her for dead in a desert. The film is rich in symbolism and draws its influences from a variety of sources, including the action sequences of Mad Max, the operatic violence of Quentin Tarantino films, and Korean revenge films like I Saw the Devil.
Now, the ferocious film is getting a limited edition Blu-Ray box set, courtesy of Second Sight. To celebrate the release, Fargeat granted an interview and discussed her main influences, the film’s symbolism, and the genre tropes she sought to challenge and rewrite.
What inspired you to want to make Revenge as your first feature?
For my first feature film, I really wanted to choose a film that was close to what I like as a director and as a filmmaker. I was sure it had to be a genre film. That’s what I grew up with. It was this strong desire to create my own genre film, combined with the idea of being fascinated with the Lolita character that brings upon her a lot of love and violence. For me, I realized it [the Lolita character] was powerful in terms of what it says about how women can be seen in society and how they can be looked at and considered and what kind of violence can unfold when they don’t act the way people think they should act. Then, I started to shape the story, the visuals, the music, and really the soul of the movie, growing from those two primary elements.
In various articles you cite Cronenberg, Lynch, and Tarantino as some of your influences. Can you talk about the impact they’ve had on you as a director?
In very different ways, what I love about those filmmakers is that they really make reality their own reality. They shape new worlds. They really set their own rules in their films, while giving a specific personality that is only theirs. With a Tarantino movie, you know immediately that it’s a Tarantino movie. You know immediately that it’s a David Lynch movie. The same is true for a David Cronenberg movie. The movie looks this way because it’s this specific filmmaker who did it and nobody else.
When I started to write, I was really guided by this idea that I wanted to give myself my own rules for my movie. That was something that was very important to keep in mind because when you do a film, especially when it’s your first feature film, everyone says, oh, you have to do it like this, and in a genre film, you have to follow this rule or that rule. There might be some good advice in that, but you have to focus on what you want to do and the way you want to do it. I think that’s what, in the end, will make your film stay with people. It will be specific.
How much influence, if any, did you draw from the French extremity films of the early 2000s, especially in terms of the violence, politics, and gore, or from South Korean revenge films like I Saw the Devil?
I watched some of the French extremity films, but not a lot, I must admit. I was definitely more influenced by the Korean extremity films. What I really like is the way they deal with violence. It’s super violent, super excessive, and super gory, but it’s always fun to watch. It’s a trip. It becomes operatic. It becomes a poetic, violent way to have fun with something. I knew that’s what I liked in dealing with violence. There’s always some humor in the violence. I think the South Korean films do it in a perfect way. It’s so extreme, so violent, but so funny at the same time. It never takes itself so seriously. I think that really creates something that transcends reality.
One thing I noticed is that when the tables turn and when Jen starts to enact her revenge, the gaze flips in the film. She’s the hunter watching the men, and she even possesses their guns and binoculars. How much was the power of the male gaze and its history on your mind when shooting this film?
I really wanted to play with and reverse all the codes that you’re used to seeing, especially in genre films, like having the girl framed in the shower, naked. There were really specific elements that I had in mind when I started to write. I didn’t want her [Jen] to be screaming all the time. I wanted the character to become strong and have a silent strength that rises. I also liked the idea that little by little, she was going to take for herself all of those very male symbols of strength and power, like the car, the gun, and the binoculars. I really liked the idea that the phoenix symbol comes from a beer can that is very a male type of image. I wanted to flip all of those symbols so that she could appropriate them for herself.
In the end, for the final scene, I wanted to totally flip everything. He [Richard/Kevin Janssens] is the one naked in the shower. He comes out and is left without anything. He doesn’t have his jacket, car, or motorbike. He’s vulnerable and the one naked in the final chase. She basically took everything and empowered herself with all the symbols that are usually reserved for men in those kinds of films.
Jen undergoes such a major transformation throughout the film. What did you tell actress Matilda Lutz about the character before filming?
In fact, I didn’t have to tell her a lot. When I met her and did a first screen test, it was all about symbols. It was about going far in the beginning with the Lolita, Marilyn, baby doll type of girl, not being afraid to be really sexy and really provocative, enjoying her own body and playing with it. It was super important that we went far in that direction in the beginning so we could go far in the other direction in the second part of the movie.
For the second part of the movie, she becomes almost like an animal. She basically enters into a communion with the elements, like the earth, the sun, the heat, the cave, the rocks, and she takes her strength from all those elements that the guys don’t care about. They pollute. They throw their beer cans into nature. They don’t care or think about nature. She feeds herself with that. She bonds with her environment. It gives her strength. Those two directions shaped the two faces of the character.
What’s next for you?
I have almost finished writing my next film. I will shoot next year. It’s still going to be a genre film, but it’s going to be very, very different from Revenge. What I can say for the moment is that it will still have a lot of violence and excess in it, but in a world and universe that is absolutely different from Revenge.
You can buy the new Limited Edition Revenge Blu-ray from Second Sight Films starting today. It is region B, so Signal fans in the United States will have to wait a bit longer for these bad ass special features.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.