This topped critics’ lists of notable films last year and I did a bit of a double-take when I realized that it’s an entry in the exploitative rape and revenge genre. Still this was made by a woman French director Coralie Fargeat and I knew it wouldn’t have been so lauded had it been merely puerile so here we are.
Young and sexy American Jennifer arrives by helicopter at the secluded desert home of wealthy Frenchman Richard for a liaison. She is miffed that he is married but that doesn’t prevent her from enjoying herself. Later she is surprised when two armed men turn up. They are Stan and Dimitri, friends of Richard who participate in a hunting trip with him every year. They are clearly appreciative of Jennifer’s sexiness and she teases them. The next morning while Richard is away, Stan rapes her while Dimitri does nothing. When Richard returns he offers her a large amount of money to keep quiet but she insists only on being sent home. When she threatens to reveal their affair to his wife, he slaps her and she runs until she reaches the edge of a cliff. There he pushes her to her death. Predictably however given the genre she survives and comes back to enact her revenge one by one.
From the moment Jennifer shows up with oversized sunglasses, luscious lips sucking on a lollipop and the camera lingering longingly on her rear, you know that this isn’t a subtle film. Yet the director is a woman and all this is by design. This means that while the film delights in showing all her moves when she is being intentionally playful and sexy, it consciously shies away from making the rape scene itself titillating in any way. In fact while the character wears pretty skimpy clothing throughout the film, there is very little actual nudity. As nudity implies vulnerability, the director actually has Richard being the one who is completely naked during their final confrontation while she is fully clothed and equipped. This speaks much for the director’s understanding of the language of cinema and proves that this isn’t just another exploitative film. It is in fact making a statement that women ought to be free to behave sexily when they want to but may also stop being so when they choose and it is completely up to them. You can see that from how the male gaze camera is used in the early scenes and then never used again.
Unfortunately Jennifer’s ability to survive her trials and enact vengeance is the realm of pure fantasy. The impossibility of the feats she pulls off, such as a healing ability that rivals that of Wolverine, damages any sense of verisimilitude. It also contrasts badly with the reality that such abuses by rich and powerful men are all too believable and the victims are in position to do what Jennifer does here. Still the film does make for quite a spectacle and Fargeat is adroit enough of a director to keep the action exciting and unpredictable. The camera delights in capturing the viscerality of the violence with close-up slow-motion shots of wounds inflicted or even just a mouth chewing food.
Overall I’d rate this as a very clever subversion of the traditional rape-revenge genre and a decent action flick. It’s purely a power fantasy that doesn’t have to be taken too seriously and there’s nothing wrong with that as our fiction is already full of male power fantasies and we could do with more female ones.