When 82 women took to the stairs at the Palais to protest the lack of women directors at Cannes, the sentiment seemed to be “get more women.” On the other side of things, it’s “when women make movies good enough, we will let them in.”
There is a desire by our modern culture to include more kinds of filmmakers to right the wrongs of the past — the past that seemingly led us to a place where only men are making money-making movies, winning Oscars making movies, entering the canon of greatness making movies while women are quietly resigned to the sidelines. The truth about it is, though, when it comes to women and minorities in the industry — you are really only encouraged to make the kinds of movies people want you to make. With [white] men, they can mostly make whatever they want unless it mistakenly trips into a woke controversy. For the most part, however, there is more freedom on that side than there is on the side of women. Films by women that seem to do well are those that don’t take themselves too seriously, don’t reach too high or too far, mostly color within the lines with non-threatening material. It seems that women are invited to the table but they had to play nice. They have to stay in their lane.
What I love about Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, like Anna Biller’s The Love Witch, is that you see women behind the camera not playing nice. Not in the least bit. Reclaiming the male gaze by making it a female gaze — empowering their protagonists by giving them back their sexual power, not robbing them of it as though it is something to be ashamed of or to fear. But none of these things are what makes them such forces to be reckoned with — although it helps because woke culture really needs them to explain their choices. It’s not exploitation is it, goes the battle cry. No, my friends. It’s not. Don’t worry. What it is: out of the box, outside the lines, brilliant, vivid unforgettable CINEMA.
The best art, the best cinema, digs itself deeply into you. It messes with your head. You wake up thinking about it. Revenge would be easy to write off as a feminist screed that “smashes the patriarchy.” But that, to me, is a one dimensional read of what it is. It misses the artfulness of it. The tongue-in-cheek humor — like the closeup of the guy taking a bite of a candy bar, or how the male entitlement is best summed up by one guy taking a piss on a spider and killing it. It’s how the blue and the pink stand off in the big fancy house. Revenge, like The Love Witch, is an example of an artist in full command of the visual style, one that is drenched in the language of film.
But somehow, neither of these films or these directors seem to be getting the same kind of miracle birth as so many male directors are given after their breakthrough film. Sure, their work is outside the box, and both have things in them that do not fit in the mainstream. Revenge is very violent, graphic, bloody. The Love Witch is esoteric and deliberately off-key enough that it will leave many confused about what’s going on. Both require leaning in to what the artist is trying to do. So it isn’t enough to just say “We need more women directing.” We also have to ask, “How can we appreciate the ones who are kicking down doors and breaking windows?
I watched Revenge like I do so many other movies directed by women and asked the simple question: would I think this was a work of genius if it were directed by a man? Or am I grading on a curve? Do we see being a female director as a disability? The truth is that there aren’t a lot of great female directors because female directors aren’t allowed to be great. They have to carry the burden — like so many filmmakers who represent an under-served minority do — the burden of righting every wrong, of atoning for the crimes of the past. Men have more access to experimentation and are accepted making a wide variety of movies. Women have to worry about what people will think of THEM if they show what they are really capable of, how dark they can go, how mean they can be. I order to soar, they have to be able to let their freak flag fly.
That door, at least right now, still seems closed to women behind the camera unless they do not offend. I’ve already read one too many annoying reviews of Revenge that have completely missed the point. Ignore those. Unless you are greatly bothered by gratuitous blood, you should watch this movie for the talent of its director and star alone. There is more to it — a primal itch that is scratched — but a first pass just to see how great the film’s shot setups? Yeah, don’t miss it.
I get that so much about our appreciation of cinema comes from our need for projection. We need to feel like the hero. We need to feel like we got the girl. Revenge is that rare treat that offers up that fantasy projection for women who really needed to see a story like this play out so succinctly on film.
In Revenge are shades of Clint Eastwood, George Miller, Kathryn Bigelow, and Sergio Leone — even a little Sam Peckinpah. I believe it to be one of the best films of 2018.
Keep an eye on Coralie Fargeat — if Hollywood is paying attention, she is going places.