‘Wild Diamond’ Director Agathe Riedinger on Her Cannes Debut Movie

The only debut feature world premiering in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, “Wild Diamond” is poised to be a highlight of this year’s roster. In the film, promising French director Agathe Riedinger tackles timely themes such as the hyper-sexualization of women and rape culture through the story of Liane, a 19-year old woman from a broken family whose dream is to take part in a reality show called “Miracle Island.” The movie expands on “Waiting for Jupiter,” Riedinger’s critically acclaimed 2018 short.

The long-gestating “Wild Diamond” is produced by Priscilla Bertin and Judith Nora at Paris-based Silex Films and is represented in international markets by Pyramide International. Ahead of the movie’s world premiere, Riedinger discussed the genesis of the project and her own fascination with reality TV, as well as her process for casting and working with talented non-professionals such as Malou Khebizi, who is in nearly every frame of the movie.

“Wild Diamond” is the only debut feature competing for a Palme d’Or this year. How does it feel to be facing off against big names like Francis Ford Coppola?

To be selected in the main competition is totally crazy! I hadn’t even considered this and being surrounded by legendary filmmakers is even more awesome.

Am I right in thinking that your main character Liane was also the protagonist of your short film “Waiting for Jupiter”?

Yes, absolutely. The character was born from my longtime fascination with reality TV, which is amazingly well made. I watch it every day and eagerly follow the daily life of the candidates. I take full responsibility for watching these programs, even though they are based a lot on contempt for different social classes, which I wholeheartedly condemn. So there is always a feeling of shame watching it from my side.

Why are you so fascinated by reality TV?

Because of the violence of the extremely reactionary values conveyed, the grandeur that unfolds, and the bodies of the contestants who are hyper-feminized and hyper-sexualized. The entertainment relies a lot on women’s body image.

Why did you want to make “Wild Diamond?”

I was keen to explore the reasons why young women like Liane sign up for these shows. I wanted to tell this from the point of view of a candidate. Their reasons are worthy, because reality TV has become a job like any other job, and it’s a springboard for poorly educated people to get ahead and gain social status. It’s a way to earn money, to earn it quickly, and be successful. I also find it beautiful that it gives them a platform. Through celebrity status, they can achieve a sense of self-worth that is being denied to them, because they are automatically pigeonholed as belonging to the working class, and therefore cannot have access to a stage, lights and success.

What’s interesting in the film is the sharp contrast between female exploitation, sexualization and feminism. Liane exposes her body, but she is a consenting adult.

Indeed! I was keen to show the ambivalence around beauty representation and the hyper-sexualization of women, which are presented as a great feminist impulse. Liane’s hyper-sexualization is her way of being, which allows her to gain value and dignity. She needs people’s gaze to assert her sense of self-esteem. Beyond that, what I also wanted to tell is that beauty is the only weapon which has always been left to women, for them to prove that they exist. There is a real ambivalence in the fact that we still expect women to be “real woman” only if they are desirable, a notion which derives from hyper-patriarchal assumptions.

You also seem to question masculinity.

Absolutely. Men as well must follow various mandates which are symbolized by money, muscles, loud voices, the big car, the noisy motorcycle. But there is a risk of losing oneself around these standards. This is true with the character of Dino as, ultimately, he is the complete opposite of all stereotypes. He is a true romantic, in the literary sense of the word, and very soft.

Could you discuss the fact that Liane wants to remain a virgin?

Beyond her wish to remain a virgin, Liane has shut herself behind her image, behind her body, to the point where her appearance has become an armor, for her to face the world and which allows her to stay in control and feel powerful. She is so disconnected from her body and its sensations, that she no longer asks herself the questions: where is my desire, where are my emotions…

Again, what interested me was to show a hyper-sexualized, hyper-provocative body, but which is not seductive and not about sex. Her virginity allows me to portray her distrust of men, her contempt for romanticism and for carnal love.

Religion also seems be very important in Liane’s life, isn’t it?

Reality TV people (in France) do belong to various religions, mainly of Muslim and Catholic faith. This also feeds a system of values which can be perceived as hyper-conservative by certain people or communities. But faith is very present because it alludes to dignity. If I swear by God, if God is with me, it is because my dignity is at stake and I need to feel accepted.

How was the casting process? How did you find the amazing Malou Khebizi?

Malou is extraordinary. I was looking for a non-professional actor who would be consistent with Liane in the film. Together with [casting director] Julie Allione, we did an open casting call over almost eight months to find her. Strangely enough, we found her early in the casting process, but it took me a while to say yes. I wanted to make sure that she could carry on her shoulders the whole film, as she would literally be in every frame. I needed someone mature enough to understand what the film is saying, its themes and sub-themes. Malou attended workshops with an acting coach and we worked a lot on the text, on the use of her body; we went through Malou’s way of being, versus Liane’s way of being which is completely the opposite.

There were also dreamlike moments in the film. How did you work on these and what do they mean ?

This comes through perhaps because of my training at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and the fact that I worked in advertising and music videos. I’ve experimented with very different narrative formats, more inspired by painting and photography. These are things that I always integrate into my work. And then, what interested me for “Wild Diamond,” was to bring something much more visual, to tell Liane’s fantasy and show another side of her, to have an image that is beautiful in a visual sense. Because beauty, the search for beauty is at the core of the film. I wanted that to be reflected in the image as well.
I therefore used all these dreamlike paintings, linked to fantasies and to comments on social media which validate Liane, and encourage her to go further.

How challenging was the financing ?

The toughest was the scriptwritingwhich took four years. In fact, it was painful. Besides the aspect of isolation, inherent to writing, the topic itself — reality TV — was challenging. It’s a world of entertainment often criticized for being deceptive, exploitative, nasty, not worth being talked about. It took a while in the writing to find the right angle to empathize with the character and to show that we do empathize with her. But then, there was also a real shift in mentality. I remember, at the time of the release of Delphine de Vigan’s book “The Children Are Kings.” This is when attitudes changed towards reality TV. It made it possible for people to start thinking: “OK, it might be stupid and nasty, but perhaps we should talk about it.” Ultimately, it’s a mirror of society which isn’t so nice to see and takes up a lot of space, but which needs to be discussed. And from then on, I felt a lot less alone.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.