IN CONVERSATION WITH CORALIE FARGEAT
“I have always wanted to be a director” says Coralie Fargeat, whose debut feature REVENGE tells the story of Jen (Matilda Lutz), who finds her weekend of frivolous fun at remote desert villa with her millionaire playboy boyfriend (Kevin Jannsens) escalate into violence. In conversation with FrightFest, Fargeat spoke of the influences behind her revenge thriller, the desires that define her as a filmmaker and the act of collaborating with her audience.
Was there an inspirational or defining moment that served as the spark of the idea for REVENGE?
There were different influences; the first one was to make a genre film. These are movies that have inspired me a lot as a filmmaker, and they are very creative paths for asking questions and talking about social matters. And they can also made in a very entertaining way. I also wanted to create a very strong visual universe with sound, which is something that is very important to me in filmmaking. So all these came together in REVENGE - a very visceral quest that is allowed to be creative by going down those paths.
There is an idea in cinema that you should try to create an immersion where you suspend belief. This film does that in moments, but in the playful and hyper visual scenes, we are aware that we are watching a film and can sense your presence. The concept of the conscious and unconscious act of immersion is at the heart of the experience of REVENGE?
It’s true that what I love about directing is creating a very strong visceral experience. I like to visualise the images, the sounds and the music when I write because that's what drives me when I imagine the scene. It’s about how I am going to create an emotional and physical experience for the viewer. Cinema is the only medium with which you can do that at the same time through sound, image and emotions, and it is a very unique way of transmitting this visceral fate.
The movie is really about the body and in the first part the body is sexy and sensual, and there is this hypnotic gaze on all of the events that is very fancy - the beautiful girl, the skin, the water, the sun, and all of the colours are bright and shiny, and very juicy. In the second part it is still about the body, but it is going to be wounded and it will have a difficult experience with all of the natural elements that are stronger than these characters are. I like the way that the natural elements became the mirror of the feelings of the group as they become more out of control. And at the same time, as they go deeper into the desert and further away from a civilised place, it is as if they are going into hell on earth. I like playing with all these symbols and strong images. It can be the apple, the phoenix, the ants or the crucifixion with the impaled girl that penetrate the mind of the audience very deeply, and which in the moment you can't totally figure out why. It is something that stays with you afterwards, and so it's all about the unconscious feelings you have whilst you watch a movie. I like the audience to be active, in that you don't necessarily explain everything, but you leave some time for it to digest because the audience will leave with its own experience of the film. They will think about it afterwards, and this is what I really enjoyed with this film; it’s the path I love to take as a director.
In as much as revenge is the driving force of the film, it thematically explores identity and transformation that are offset by the way in which you manipulate our expectations of the characters?
I like to start with very cliche situations, and characters that seem very monotone or mono-defined, and then twist and reverse everything by taking a path that you don't expect. Part of the pleasure of following the characters comes from what you do not expect from them in the beginning. It's interesting to discover them in a monolithic way, so that they are symbols of different behaviours or types of personalities, and then they are free to take you to some unexpected place. This is something I definitely like, and here by not using those typical action scenes, but instead finding a different way to create tension by having almost no dialogue. At the end of the film we have this surreal chase inside the villa with very few elements, from which you can create something that is very powerful, tense and diverse for the audience. So it is playing with expectations and part of it is fulfilling those expectations by starting with simple characters. Then at some point you twist and reverse the conventions to take your own path, and to take the audience a different route to enjoying the movie.
Speaking with Carol Morley for THE FALLING, she explained: “You take it 90 percent of the way, and it is the audience that finishes it. So the audience by bringing themselves: their experiences, opinions and everything else to a film is what completes it.” If the audience are the ones that complete it, does it follow that there is a transfer in ownership?
Well, it is true that when the film is first screened to an audience, it doesn't belong to you anymore. The audience is going to project their own interpretations, and find their own way of enjoying the film, or not. What is great with cinema is that you don't know in advance if you are going to meet the audience, and that's the magic when it does happen; when your film is capable of provoking intense reactions. I tend to agree that there is this 10 percent that the audience adds to the film when they view it.
Interviewing filmmaker Christoph Behl he remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process?
Especially for this film in the way that I approached it and the subject it deals with, it was for me a very strong accomplishment. I have always wanted to be a director; this is what I have in me. I am happy and I feel life is lively and exciting, and so it's a very strong pure energy that you are finally expressing to the world. But it is also a very fragile and tiring one because you are exposing yourself. You are taking what you have inside of yourself and you are showing it to everybody. So it's a very strong experience and it goes together in the film making process with the way the audience is going to be able to project its own experience onto the film. If you leave some space for the audience, by providing a strong vision in a unique way of what it is you want to do, then they are going to go into the experience and react. It can be good; it can be bad, but they will react. I think it is the purpose of a movie to get those kind of reactions, and in the end to create something with the audience.
Larry Fessenden remarked to me of his feeling that a film is abandoned. Would you agree that by a certain point you must accept the film you have and send it out into the world, that could be compared to an act of abandonment?
Yes, definitely! For me when you are making a film you know it's basically yourself that you are putting into the movie, so it's a super intense and nervous, philosophically speaking experience. And I think the way to be true to the audience and the art of film making is to take risks, by giving your soul to the movie to create an artistic object. So it definitely goes with being able to express what you have inside of you. It can be a difficult process and for sure it's a very implicating one, and I have to abandon a lot of boundaries, a lot of self-control, and when I write, shoot and edit, I am in some sort of a trance. I put myself in a position where I don't care about the outside world; I will not see a lot of people. I am very much into my creation and I cannot be too involved with the real world in order for me to let this creation out, and to not be paralysed by a more realistic input that is the real world.
REVENGE is playing in UK and Irish cinemas now.
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