French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat doesn't refrain from provocation with her gruesome cinematic debut, a white-knuckle ride of vengeance and survival. Indeed, the shit doesn't merely hit the fan in her feminist grindhouse thriller Revenge, it is savagely jettisoned as if tossed into the propellers of the economically thriving antagonist's helicopter.

I think Dazed described this rape-revenge rollercoaster best when they called it a "French, feminist Kill Bill-style thriller" - this encompasses Fargeat's struggle to secure funding for the film in her native country, where the nature and narrative of the film was deemed so troubling for a debut that the national film community refused to offer its support. What resulted was a poetically non-specific use of location and language; the combination of French with English and the harsh desert terrain where the story takes place are befitting of Fargeat's overriding message. The ambiguity of the environment and absence of character biographies makes it more applicable, and yet instantly more threatening - a stark reminder to viewers that rape can happen to anyone, anywhere.

We meet our young and beautiful heroine, Jen (Matilda Lutz), as she is being whisked away by her wealthy and married lover, Richard, to his fortress of solitude somewhere in the desert. When two of Richard's repulsive business associates unexpectedly join and one of them rapes her in Richard's absence, Jen tries to escape but is pushed off the edge of a cliff by the very two-faced beau she trusted to help her and impaled on a haggard tree. From then on, Fargeat weaves a Tarantino, Winding Refn-esque tale of bloody retribution which triumphs as much from its metamorphosis of the way women are talked about and represented in film as the artistic use of colour and metaphor.

Jen's relative lack of dialogue is consistent with the way rape is dealt with in society. Indeed, we don't actually hear her speak until at least five minutes, and her first words are a coquettish "hi". The objectification of her body is an illustration the voyeuristic, 'apple of my eye' pleasure of the male gaze (look out for that symbolic imagery!) and a critique of the problematic normalisation of abusive behaviour. Case in point: Richard, in trying to rectify the wreck caused by the rape, concedes that Jen is just "so God damn beautiful it's hard to resist" her. That's why her transformation (or, rather, her resurrection) into a malefic Lara Croft packs such a powerful punch.

Revenge is the first film being promoted through Birds Eye View's Reclaim the Frame project, an initiative championing films made by women, and is out now.

Popular Posts