Cannes 2024: The Substance gets the dose and explodes the counters [critique]

The French Coralie Fargeat signs a die-hard and ultra-referenced body horror film that dynamites everything in its path. Starting with its two stars: Demi Moore and Margaret Qualley. Enjoyable.

Since Julia Ducournau prayed for the Palme d'Or one evening (TitaniumMay 2021) from “ let the monsters in », the pundits of the Cannes Film Festival have opened the doors to the sheepfold. so here's The Substance by Coralie Fargeat, a gory film which in other times could have wisely landed in a Midnight screening in front of an audience committed to the cause of “genre”. In competition, the filmmaker's second feature is offered to a wider audience, who don't necessarily find the hemoglobin funny. Placed halfway through the festival, at a time when the eyelids weigh a dead donkey, The substance therefore had the mission of reviving spirits. To warm them up, even. The very alive Emila Perez by Jacques Audiard had primed the pump the day before. And we will note, amused, that it is from an expatriate French cinema – Mexico for Audiard, the US for Fargeat – that the new impetus comes. The two films do not have much in common but examine, each in their own way, the transformation of bodies to better remove the stitches of cumbersome realism.

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Hollywood sirens

Until now we knew Coralie Fargeat for revenge (2018). A first feature which followed a young woman being raped by horny bastards before being impaled on a stake in the middle of nowhere. In a magnificent gesture of survival, the unfortunate woman managed to escape from her uncomfortable posture and began a revenge that made Rambo for a figure skater.

Esteemed successes, Hollywood sirens: here then The Substance. The bodies are bruised again, and in all directions. We follow a “fifty-year-old” (Demi Moore), a former movie star who became the star of a television aerobics show (all of this is told in one absolutely brilliant shot!). The producer of the program (Dennis Quaid in total overheating) decides to fire her overnight to cast a much younger woman. At the same time, the outcast receives a shady proposition that she cannot refuse: inject herself with a strange substance that will allow her to generate a sort of double, an improved version of herself, young and pretty, with her own personality. . As in any tale, there is one condition: every seven days, she will have to regain possession of her old body to avoid irreversible degradation of her appearance.

We know how Faustian pacts end. Very bad, in general.

Purely organic challenge

The two beings thus split (Margaret Qualley, subscribed to strangeness after her triple partition in Kinds of Kindness by Yorgos Lanthimos, and Moore denies) very quickly engage in a war at a distance. Filmed in a barely dystopian Los Angeles, deliberately sanitized and almost depopulated, the heroine advances in a world full of bay windows, flat screens, candy pink decors and endless Kubrickian corridors. His sick ego fills the frame with an increasingly angry and muted tension.

The good idea is to tell this war with a single character, suddenly split into two characters. One then the other, one against the other. This psychological and physical divide allows the story to go beyond its simple political aim (the worn-to-the-bone refrain of a spectacle society and its mirages, triumphant feminism…) to confront a purely organic challenge of cinematic representation. The enjoyment felt comes mainly from there.

Coralie Fargeat presses all the keys of an identified cinephile bestiary (choice: Cronenberg, Carpenter, de Palma, Peter Jackson first style…), to graft them to her own author's vision. A vision that takes him very far, to the end of a road of no return. Its immediately omniscient staging takes an all-powerful look at a reality devoid of off-camera. Like this magnificent opening sequence where the aura of a soon-to-be-fallen star can be read on the fragile surface of his star on the Walk of Fame from Los Angeles, Coralie Fargeat films a slow and inevitable degradation of an image trapped within herself. From then on, the foreign body can take up all the space and devour it from the inside.

The Substance. By Coralie Fargeat. With: Demi Moore, Margaret Qualley, Dennis Quaid…. Duration: 2h20 Release undetermined.


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