Sunday 13 May 2018
Blood And Sand
2017 France Directed by Coralie Fargeat
UK cinema release print.
Wow... what a great movie. I really wanted to see Revenge and I was hoping/assuming it would get a wider release to one of my local cinemas or, at the very least, play to full houses in all the London venues. Alas, it was a real problem to track the film down, taking me out of my safety zone and trying to find a cinema near a train station in order to catch the last one home in the unusually small amount of screens showing this at, it has to be said, way too inconvenient times to be doing this film any favours.
However, even as the first moment of the film came up on the screen and the dot above the vast, static shot of a desert landscape grew to show a helicopter zooming at us dead centre of the frame, masterfully anticipated by the thwup thwup thwup of ROB’s (aka Robin Coudert) truly outstanding electronic score, I knew it had been worth tracking this film down and getting to look at this thing in the cinema.
The film is, as the title suggests, an old cliché of a revenge plot but the actual execution of the story is a lot less ‘held back’ by the way the genre tropes are usually represented in these... in some ways at least.
So we have the main protagonist, Jen (played by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), who is... and I’m almost sorry to say this... a vacuous airhead of a character and, I think this is a deliberate ploy by the writer/director (I’ll touch on this again in a minute). She is brought along to the desert retreat of her married lover, Michael (played by Kevin Janssens) for a couple of days of sex and sun before his two friends arrive for their annual hunting trip. However, after Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) arrive a day early, Jen finds herself left alone with the two while Michael has to go out for a couple of hours. When he returns, Jen has been raped by Stan and when they all try to appease the tearful girlfriend, she resists the idea and tries to escape into the desert. At this point, Michael shows his true colours and pushes her over the edge of a cliff, impaling her on a tree.
The next part of the film is Jen’s return to conciousness as she ‘goes feral’ and seeks to kill the three men who are hunting her after realising she somehow survived the incident. And, yeah, that’s a pretty standard revenge movie plot, to be sure, but the thing I was most impressed with here, in terms of the way the character of Jen, brilliantly portrayed by Lutz, is presented is... even though she becomes a dangerous predator herself who actually learns how to survive as she goes (such as an incident with an abruptly ending trail of blood used as a trap which gives her pause for thought when a similar tactic is used later in the film)... she still seems to retain the ‘vacuous airhead’ part of her character. She has instinctual intelligence but in no way seems to demonstrate the intellectual lift that one usually associates with the ‘woman goes savage’ trope in these kinds of affairs and that’s really refreshing, in some ways. Of course, I could just be misinterpreting that because, I believe, after the character returns to the story I don’t think she has any lines of dialogue but... well, that’s the way it came off to me.
The direction and shot design on this are superb, too.
Take the house interior, which is used in the first and last quarters of the movie, before and after the narrative has turned into a variant of The Most Dangerous Game (an exploitation remake of which is reviewed by me here). These are shot with a kind of ‘giallo filter’ to them in that the colours juxtaposed such as different full length windows in pink and blue glass and the way the verticals within the shots are used to split and delineate characters quite rigidly in different segments of the screen, are more than reminiscent of the kinds of colourful theatricality inherent in the gialli which prospered mostly in late 1960s to late 1970s Italian cinema. I suspect Fargeat is a fan of this kind of cinema and she does this kind of thing so beautifully throughout the movie.
Another thing she likes to do is focus on little details of a shot or situation and extend or slow them down with an exaggerated sound volume to dwell on things such as a man’s teeth tearing into a snack or drops of blood landing next to an ant. She sometimes does this simply by allowing her characters to walk out of shot and then not following them, electing instead to linger on the leftovers of a scene rather than rush to capture the next. Which is a nice way of doing things, I thought.
Everything in the movie seems to be enhanced in a similar way and the richness of the colours throughout, together with the augmented audio experience reminded me a lot, actually, of the fantastic films of husband and wife team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, with such works as Amer (reviewed here) and The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears (reviewed here) and I mean this absolutely as a compliment to the slightly off kilter genius of this director... this is Coralie Fargeat’s first feature length film but she’s obviously one to watch.
It’s to her credit also that in a film which is so ‘dialled up’ both visually and aurally, that a scene where the mescaline from some peyote kicks in with one of the characters feels like its been ‘turned up’ even more. There’s something about the way this director isolates and distracts by normalising the audience’s expectations which make even this scene a contrast to what has gone before.
A similar visual ‘stylistic push’ seems to come from the look of the actors. I don’t know whether this was conscious or not but, for instance, Guillaume Bouchède has the kind of ‘Italian Peter Lorre’ look one might associate with Luciano Pigozzi and Vincent Colombe could almost be a young Eli Wallach at times here. As for Kevin Janssens, his angular and expressively dead yet somehow flattened face looks nothing less than something Hergé might have drawn as one of his antagonistic thugs in The Adventures Of Tin Tin. The whole look of the movie, even it’s visually giallo-like similarities, almost feels like it was destined for the pages of a 1970s issue of Metal Hurlant (aka Heavy Metal) and it’s a nice fusion of styles, rather than clash, which helps give the film its heightened sense of intensity.
The director also seems to like a lot of violence... well maybe not violence but more the goriness and aftermath of violence. In fact, one of the things I noticed mostly was not the abundance of violence, since there are only three antagonists to hunt down and present with ‘pay back’ in the entire movie... it was more the way in which the lead in to each violent act was similarly extended to give both the most apprehension as to what will happen next and also the most appreciation (if that’s the right word) of the levels of gory detail which Fargeat's lens lovingly lingers on. I think I would most liken it to sexual foreplay as the director teases and slowly brings the violent elements to a boil before each orgasmic character denouement in the story.
Also, I noticed an almost fetishistic obsession with wounds and their post-trauma penetration while the recipients of said conflict are still alive. So pointy branches are cut out of wounds, deeply assimilated shards of glass are fished around for in a foot (in a scene of intense grimness that becomes almost deliberately comical when reflected in the face of the person in question... I wasn’t the only one in the audience laughing at this moment) and I have to say that by the end of the film I was waiting for it to happen with every scrape or bodily penetration depicted. It became very much a case of... “Oh, that person’s just received a very nasty wound... I guess someone will be sticking their fingers in that in a few minutes then.”... and, sure enough, there weren’t too many opportunities missed in the ‘wound invasion’ department.
One odd thing about the violence presented in the film is that, even though it’s not really a ‘first person point of view’ kind of affair, whenever Jen gets hit on the head and loses consciousness for a few seconds, the screen goes dark for a moment. Which I found interesting. Kind of a ‘first person by proxy’ implication, in a way.
Another nice thing involving the violence and goriness in one scene is the way the director turns up a ‘shopping channel’ on a TV to provide a kind of ‘consumer counterpoint’ to the grimness of what is going on in the rest of the scenario. I haven’t seen this much blood since Argento’s Tenebrae (aka Tenebre reviewed here) and the walls and floor of the house are literally painted red by the end of the film with the characters slipping in their own blood in an effort to escape or pursue one another (the film had one walk out about a third of the way through with the audience I saw it with).
And that’s about all I’m saying about this one other than... I can’t wait to grab a Blu Ray transfer of this at some point in the near future. There were a couple of moments where I didn’t understand how they could work technically in real life... including a brilliant ‘branded tattoo’ moment which I won’t go into in case it’s considered a spoiler but, ultimately artistic licence will always win out for me when the films being made are as skillfully crafted as this. Coralie Fargeat is definitely a director I need to keep my eyes open for in the future and Revenge is a brilliantly stunning debut feature. I can’t wait to see this one again.