Matilda Lutz has an unmistakable screen presence, one that could easily be wasted on generic mainstream romances. The Italian actress has recently made the transition to American cinema, first catching our attention as she filled Naomi Watts’ shoes in the long overdue horror sequel, Rings. But her latest role has critics and audiences chattering.
In Revenge, she plays Jen, the young mistress of a successful married man. After she’s raped and left for dead by her boyfriend and his friends, she sets out for vengeance. Hunting them down, one by one, she proves she’s anything but a victim.
Written and directed by Coralie Fargeat, the film seems to play into certain tropes of a male-dominated genre. But it soon becomes clear that it’s a masterful feminist satire on the revenge thriller. What’s so often appropriated by the male gaze becomes a satisfying depiction of justice, at the height of the #MeToo movement.
We recently caught up with Lutz ahead of the film’s premiere, discussing everything from working with female filmmakers to filming a rape scene to the many feminist undertones of Revenge.
What was it like putting this feminist spin on a typically male-driven genre?
I think the fact that I had such a strong director, who’s also a female, really helped give the power to the character. It’s just so compelling and challenging to me to play two different extreme characters in one film, especially because I’ve always been cast as the girl next door, a nice, kind girl. So, it was very challenging, and I couldn’t wait to play a role like that. I think that the whole film has some kind of affected view and this female power because of the director. And it’s crazy because I’ve never seen on set someone so respected in the sense that she would fight, even though everyone would root against her, she would fight for everything she wanted to shoot and every choice she wanted to make. She wouldn’t allow anyone to tell her what to do; and it’s pretty impressive when you see that from a woman.
Was it uncomfortable shooting scenes where you’re running around the desert half naked or even the rape scene; or would you say having a female director made that a little less uncomfortable?
I think it’s not just because she’s a female director, but because we also had a great connection, and we trusted each other. I felt very safe with her, and I felt like she always had my back. The rape scene, specifically, there wasn’t much nudity, except for like three seconds when you see my breasts. I think it wasn’t difficult in that sense, but it was difficult emotionally, because it’s always been my biggest fear. I think every woman, at least every friend of mine and every woman I talk to, has gone through some type of violence, which is not necessarily physically, but verbally or psychologically. We as women are basically ingrained with this fear that we have to be careful if we’re walking at three o’clock in the morning, or if we’re on the street or on the bus, we should be careful of who’s around us. All those sort of things shouldn’t be normal, but are so normal right now. You don’t even think about it, you just do it. I think that was the difficult part, trying to get into the shoes of Jen in a situation like that, where she doesn’t want it, she says “no” – but the guy is psychologically manipulating her into believing that she was wrong and that she deserved it. It was basically blaming the victim. I think you can psychologically feel the tension there.
And although you’re half naked through most of the movie, it feels more like it’s reappropriating the male gaze. Would you say there’s a right way or a wrong way to portray the female body in movies like this?
I think there was a purpose of sexualizing her and objectifying her at the beginning, but it was also not just the male gaze on her. It was her way of being, the fact that she didn’t care about people watching her, and she didn’t care about being too seductive or too sensual. She was very comfortable in her skin. That’s why I think there are a lot of close-ups of her body, because it’s not just the male gaze and the way men see her. And in the second part of the film, she’s still half naked. It’s still her. It’s not like she becomes powerful because she puts clothes on. She’s still naked, but it’s her body that’s being strong. And it’s her scars, her tattoo, and her weapon. And the whole character, even though she’s still naked, she becomes a strong character. So, I think the purpose was to make the audience believe that she hasn’t become stronger because she’s not naked.
Would you say the revenge aspect was particularly cathartic or empowering for you to film as an actress?
Yeah, it was. I think it was a lot of fun, and I got to play with that. Especially with the three different scenarios, I was killing the three guys, each time in a different way. And each time was so compelling. I think it’s the first time in my life that I’ve watched a movie that I’m in, and I don’t see myself. I’m looking at a film as an audience, like as if I wasn’t part of shooting the film. I remember the first time watching the film in Toronto and feeling so strong and so powerful. It felt like I was rooting for Jen, which is something that doesn’t often happen – because when you’re in a film, you’re always judging and thinking, “I could have done that better” or “I could have done that in a different way.” And I think this was the first time when I actually just really enjoyed watching and being with the character, basically taking revenge with her through my eyes.
That’s awesome. Is there a difference in the way you’ve seen male audiences react versus female audiences?
Honestly, I can’t really generalize, because I’ve gotten some really cool reactions from both men and women. But I think women react in a more teen kinda way. Like one time, I was at a screening, and a group of girls came out yelling, “You’re all of us!” And one girl was basically screaming at the screen every time the guy would come on, “Fuck you!” It was a very exterior reaction. And I think some men are not comfortable. I think the men that are not comfortable probably feel guilty in a way for having done something like it – not necessarily rape, but psychologically or verbally. But I got great reactions from guys, as well. And I think that even though I’m not the kind of girl who would go watch a movie like this, like a gory or bloody film, I think I would surprise myself because I didn’t expect to laugh at certain scenes or to have so much fun. I think it’s more an action-entertainment film. I think it’s wrong to say it’s a horror film, because people immediately have a negative reaction to that. And I think everyone who wouldn’t go watch a film like this, when they’ve seen it, they’re so happy about the result.
The fact that it made some men uncomfortable, would you say that it’s not necessarily the goal, but that it almost turns the tables on male audiences – because it might be how women usually feel when watching movies like this, where it’s the woman being hunted?
Yeah. I didn’t know what to expect obviously, but I think that’s the problem with this type of discussion. Because I think the reason why some men don’t understand the condition of women is not because they don’t want to understand it. It’s because unfortunately, this doesn’t happen to men. So, it’s really hard to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and understand that certain things that might not happen to you might happen to a woman every day. Honestly, men probably feel that way because they realize, watching the film, that it’s very hard to take and it’s very awful. For example, a strong scene for me was when she gets raped. Her lover who seemed to adore her when she was a nice girl and was always saying “yes” and smiling…as soon as she says she wants to go home and it’s not what he wants, he basically becomes a beast and thinks he can just shove her under the carpet. I think that’s uncomfortable as well for men to watch.
So, how would you explain the importance of a movie like this during the #MeToo movement and everything that’s going on in Hollywood?
I mean, I think it’s obviously a metaphor and not a realistic film. And she becomes kind of a superhero in a way. It’s not realistic but it is a strong metaphor for what’s happening; and I think that it is changing a tiny bit. It needs time. I think it’s so ingrained in our culture that it’s not going to change from one day to another. Things have to change with good men being on the side of women and stepping up for them as well and saying, “It’s bad to be that type of man.” And that’s how you create equals.
Revenge is now in theaters. Watch the red band trailer below.