Feminism, horror and violence, the return of female body horror to Cannes with The Substance

The Substance at Cannes 2024: The director surrounded by her actors on the red carpet, Sunday evening

The Substance at Cannes 2024: Dennis Quaid and Margaret Qualley on the rise

The Substance at Cannes 2024: Margaret Qualley poses in front of the Croisette at the Carlton Hotel

The Substance at Cannes 2024: Margaret Qualley and Demi Moore

The Substance at Cannes 2024: This shocking film by Coralie Fargeat caused a sensation on the Croisette

The Substance at Cannes 2024: The director, accomplice with star Demi Moore

The Substance at Cannes 2024: Demi Moore left her mark on the public with her extraordinary role

“Coralie doesn’t hate men, she hates jerks – just like me.”

In 2021, Julia Ducournau won the Palme d'Or with Titanium, a genre film directed by a woman. She thus became the second director to win this prize. During her acceptance speech, she said a sentence that stood out: “Thanks to the Jury for letting the monsters in.” Three years later, the monsters have adapted to the Croisette and can perhaps hope to leave with a new prize thanks to The Substancethe second feature film by the French director Coralie Fargeat.

Cannes 2024 – Day 6: The Substance sensation, the aura of Kevin Costner, Souheila Yacoub unleashed

For this film, she wanted an icon – she gets the famous Demi Moore walking up the stairs last night in an imposing dress that forced her to leave an empty seat to her left. While this 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival lacked steam – despite a good start with Furiosa followed byEmilia Perezit is finally The Substance which awakens and stimulates movie-loving minds. With a standing ovation ranging between nine and thirteen minutes depending on the source – the longest in the competition to date – and 100% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, The Substance is acclaimed by all as “the greatest body horror film.”

It is therefore with great emotion and after the rain of superlatives that fell, that the film team – in the absence of Margaret Qualleyuncomfortable in a press conference, as we saw during that of Kinds of Kindnessby Yorgos Lanthimos– met in a small group to talk about feminism, horror and violence.

A hyper-referenced film

Between her two actors, Coralie Fargeat responded to journalists curious to explore each reference present in The Substance. Begining with The Picture of Dorian Gray, the famous novel by Oscar Wilde in which the main character admired for his beauty hides from the world that his vices taint his portrait. A reflection on beauty and immorality through the presence of an alter-ego that some have found in the film. Although it is not a direct source of inspiration, the director nevertheless appreciates this parallel.

But then, what was her inspiration? She quotes Fly of David Cronenberg, Shining of Stanley Kubrick (also source of his first film, revenge), and even Paul Verhoeven known for its sulphurous cinema.

“I grew up with these kinds of films which give a feeling of freedom and say a lot, and I have always appreciated genre films in their excesses. These are films which exude madness and a certain energy and we don't always see this in our daily life, all these questions that are linked to the body.”

Universal Pictures / Working Title Films

More of Demi Moore

With such a career, one might believe that the actress of Ghost has already come to Cannes to present a film. Yet, The Substance is her first time on the red carpet as an actress. She hadn't returned for over twenty years. So obviously, for journalists, the presence of Demi Moore is a celebration of her rebirth.

In The Substance, she plays an actress in decline due to her age. Fired from the show she presents, she finds herself taking ” the substance “ and faces a better version of herself, a younger version played by Maragaret Qualley. Vulnerable both emotionally and physically in this genre film, Demi Moore opens up about her role:

“I saw it as a challenge in a good way. It was a script that took me out of my comfort zone. When something scares me, I know there is an opportunity that will improve me as a person and as an actress. This touches on many themes that we face, we seek validation and a sense of belonging. […] Thanks to this film, I accept myself much better.”

She adds that she had difficulty recognizing herself with the makeup prosthetics – but her dog recognized her! “He was my reference to reality.” Moreover, before this panel, Demi Moore posed for photographers with her dog Pilaf!

The Substance at Cannes 2024: Demi Moore left her mark on the public with her extraordinary role

A History of violence… towards women

As is often the case, body horror serves a political purpose. With The Substance, Coralie Fargeat points out the Hollywood clock of which actresses are victims who, after a certain age, are ousted from the system as well as the representation of female bodies seen by men. Thus, nudity is omnipresent. The sixty-one-year-old actress recalls these scenes with Margaret Qualley and greets her playing partner:

“I was with a person who was an incredible partner, with whom I felt safe. We were obviously close – naked – and we also had a lot of perspective in those moments about the absurdity of certain situations. Ultimately, it's just a matter of orienting your communication and mutual trust well.”

Too many nude scenes? A journalist questions how to represent female bodies. Could we accuse Fargeat of objectifying women? :

“I hope the film is not an exploitation of the body. Women's bodies really show how we are perceived in society and the violence we do to ourselves. It reflects the violence that surrounds us in all areas of society.”

Through gore and extreme, the film tackles the violence that women suffer and do to themselves in the hope of corresponding to an ideal – a better version of themselves according to imposed criteria. by men. We question his weight, his chest, his wrinkles. We go on diets, and The Substance deciphers internal and external violence:

“I started working on this film when I thought about my own feelings about myself as a woman in my forties and how I felt about that I would disappear. I would no longer have a place in society. […] I wondered why I thought that way. I have a certain education, I'm a feminist, and yet all these ideas were running through my mind, and I think that at all ages we have this feeling that we don't belong.”

She continues:

“The violence that persists around women on how they are seen and considered in society based on their current physique or what they were, the hyper-sexualization that makes you feel like you belong but , ultimately, once it's over, it leads to extreme violence towards oneself.”

The only man present in the cast, Denis Quaid (Great Balls of Fire!) initially dedicated his role to Ray Liotta who was to play his character before passing away two years ago. Then he spoke on the subject:

“Since I'm the only man here, well, I guess I can only agree with everything you've said. Things have been hard for women and there are stereotypes from the past that continue . […] Forty is the age at which women are pushed aside, while for men life goes on. I am happy to see that on such a subject, people are no longer afraid to speak… and that all these barriers are falling. [….] I think this film will continue to speak to us twenty years later.”

“It's not a film against men, he adds. We might think that Coralie hates men, but she doesn't hate people, she hates idiots and so do I! But they're so fun to play.” “-And he did a great job!”the actress immediately comments, laughing.

More broadly, it is at the heart of the movement #MeToo what is located The Substanceas the director points out:

“Whether it is women who express themselves, actresses or actors, we are building this building, stone by stone. Society has been organized this way for more than three thousand years and it will be difficult to change that. But I'm happy that this film is one of those stones.”

The Substance does not yet have a planned release in theaters. But after the student, it will be the turn of the master, David Cronenberg, to climb the steps of the Cannes Film Festival with The Shrouds. Will a Palme d’Or be awarded to a genre film? While waiting to find out, for Denis Quaid, the greatest pride is “to witness the birth of a true author.”


Leave a Comment