Saturday, January 5, 2019

REVENGE (2017) movie review

Revenge (2017) d. Coralie Fargeat (France/Belgium)

Can a rape/revenge film be equal parts brutal, ridiculous, and thought-provoking? The answer appears to be yes, as writer/director Fargeat’s debut feature ably demonstrates. Sassy and sexy Jen (Matilda Lutz) shows up at handsome, rich, and married businessman Richard’s (Kevin Janssens) secluded love hut in the desert (accessible only by helicopter) for a weekend of dancin’ and romancin’, only to be surprised by his two hunting pals (Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchede) who show up early. They take a shine to the nubile one and while their host dashes into town to secure the licenses, Jen is assaulted; when Richard returns, she tells him and he attempts to buy her off. She refuses the hush money and threatens to tell his wife if he doesn’t send her home, whereupon he attacks her and leaves her for dead.

It’s at this point that things get silly, as Jen drags her broken body across the sand, healing herself through the magical power of peyote and makeshift fireside surgery, and then proceeds to hunt down the bad man trio that done did her wrong while they, in turn, attempt to silence her forever. All four of the main characters seem to be carrying about nine times the amount of blood of any normal human being, based on the inch-thick red trails they leave in their wake, and possess an inordinate amount of resilience despite multiple wounds that would put down any self-respecting rhinoceros .

The fact that Jen’s sexuality is never diminished is an intriguing aspect, particularly since the story is being told with Fargeat at the helm. Throughout the first act, Jen is presented as a lusty, vivacious presence, pleasing Richard and teasing his companions with her skimpy outfits and sensual dancing. None of which justifies her being raped, obviously, and the viewer is 100% sympathetic to her plight, but what is interesting is that unlike other rape/revenge tales, Jen does not becomes “less of a woman” or “damaged goods” following her assault; Fargeat’s camera still roams Jen’s pleasing curves and shimmering flesh with undaunted ardor. Her avenging warrior is unquestionably feminine, with booty shorts climbing high on her hips and pink star-shaped earrings defiantly in place.

This would ordinarily could come under fire as being presented through the “male gaze,” but because Fargeat is female, we have to ask if she is trying to provide viewers with the requisite titillation factor or if she is saying something deeper, refusing to dim Jen’s inner light (sexuality) just because some assholes did not honor her boundaries. The surprising thing is that it works on both levels, and since the film becomes an overblown fantasy once we move into the payback section, it’s almost required that we write it off as such (a fantasy) and “not take it too seriously” because nothing else can be taken seriously at this point. It’s possible that Fargeat was simply trying to make an entertaining if implausible genre flick that would appeal to viewers on both sides of the aisle; it’s equally possible she was trying to make a bold feminist statement at the same time by hiding it in plain sight.

Regardless of the politics, there’s no denying, thanks to numerous impressively extended shots, gorgeous cinematography (courtesy of Robrecht Heyvaert), and sustained tension-and-release throughout, that Fargeat is a fresh and courageous filmmaking talent to watch. A subtler hand might have generated more legitimate social commentary, but it wouldn’t have audiences cheering quite as loudly.


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