Revenge (2018) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Revenge (2018)

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Richard is looking forward to his annual hunting trip with friends Dimitri and Stan. He's also anticipating debauched times with his mistress Jen.  These are men who will have their way by whatever means necessary, and they're about to learn Jen will respond to their sins in kind.  Coralie Fargeat wrote the screenplay for and directs Revenge, which stars Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, and Guillaume Bouchède.

Upfront, let's dispense with the idea that Revenge subverts the exploitation film - something I've read too many times in relation to this and other films.  Every new flavor of the month piece of cinema with a bit of self-awareness in style seems to get the subversion label slapped on without a second thought.  Revenge is exploitative.  Richard (Kevin Janssens) indulges Jen's (Matilda Lutz) fantasies of being in control while stringing her along as a bright toy.  After Richard's friend Stan (Vincent Colombe) rapes Jen, Richard chastises Stan like Stan smudged his favorite action figure.

What creates the wide gulf of quality between a film like Quentin Tarantino's exploitative low-point Death Proof and Revenge writer/director Coralie Fargeat's powerfully successful approach is a matter of emphasis.  Exploitation film comes with a bit of nudging to the audience, a whisper of, "You bastards are enjoying this - aren't you?"  Tarantino would linger on enjoyment. Fargeat lingers on bastard.It'd be wrong to say that Fargeat dares the audience to enjoy Revenge as "daring" plays into the same kind of misogyny that leads Stan to rape, then Richard to brutalize, Jen. Fargeat's technique is direct as she tweaks shots to remove the bit of enjoyment any moment might generate. Fargeat highlights how her words fall on deaf ears by delaying audio just a touch as Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) scans her body with binoculars. Men might focus on Jen's body while Fargeat uses Dimitri's gaze to focus on Jen's lips with the delay forming a distinct impression that it matters less what Jen has to say and more that Jen looks this way saying it.

Dimitri's distance and silence feed into Fargeat's razor-sharp attacks on how men construct their virility.  His aloof positioning is part choice as his ability to play the silent fool almost allows him to get the upper hand on the wounded Jen. But it's a choice he made to survive among the other two - Stan who can only take action when he's free from Richard feeding on his insecurities and Richard's flaccid penis leaving Jen unsatisfied before her trauma begins.  When Fargeat's focusing on the way the men attempt to bully one another into submission, she doesn't fall prey to the "pack" imagery that's both old hat and been disproven. Instead, she hangs around the petty cruelty of their hungers and requests through the nauseating close-up of Dimitri's eating or Richard repeatedly telling Stan to turn off the air conditioner.

Fargeat also avoids one of the more useless cliches in drug consumption.  Peyote enters the picture at a crucial point in Jen's struggle and what follows is not an insulting "spirit journey".  Jen's drug trip takes a moment to showcase the brutally effective sound design in Revenge with the faint echoes of Dimitri's smacking against the sizzle of her flesh.  The improvised phoenix tattoo that proves to be Jen's lifesaving addition seems worthy of a groan for being too on the nose yet Fargeat takes the piss out of this potentially hamfisted metaphor with some tiny corporate wording.

Revenge works so efficiently in its exploitation corner that the stumbles, when they happen, push Fargeat's style a bit too far. One shot keeps Jen frozen in the center of the frame as she falls and feels too comically exaggerated considering the surrounding dusty despair.  It's not like the too long dance show Jen puts on at the beginning, which overstays its welcome but to the degree it highlights the expectations each of the men have beyond this woman trying to have fun.  Fargeat's strengths lay in drawing out the discomfort than providing one immediate shock then moving on to the next thing.Fargeat's style and control are superb yet might not mean as much if not centered with great performances.  Revenge is kind enough to provide three.  Lutz slides effortlessly into the extreme emotional states required of her that when she is fully reborn Fargeat's circling shot around Lutz's reclaimed figure could come straight out of a '80s action film.  Colombe and Bouchède also impress as the lackeys fumbling at connecting with Jen.  They take different approaches to exposing the cowardice and shame behind their actions.  Colombe puts on a strong front over a weeping center and Bouchède doing the reverse. Janssens is effective but his character's icy brutality is somewhat par for the course in these kinds of films.

By the time Jen's journey reaches its conclusion Fargeat has not redefined or subverted the exploitation film so much as put her undeniably feminist candy-coated spin on it.  The nightmare Richard, Stan, and Dimitri put Jen through she turns around on them, starting with explicit fears of penetration and ending on forcefully introducing period pain - complete with bleeding - all over the once fun home. Fargeat directs the hell out of this, and I wonder what her focused creativity will work over next.

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Revenge (2018)

Screenplay written and directed by Coralie Fargeat.
Starring Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, and Guillaume Bouchède.

Posted by Andrew

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