Not your standard adaptation of Jules Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly’s 19th century classic Les diaboliques, Rita Azevedo Gomes’ retribution-filled A Woman’s Revenge tells the story of a missing noblewoman, the Duchess of Sierra Leone, (Rita Durão) in her quest to act out in violence. After a marriage without passion and a glimpse into how the flipside might feel like, she faces the death of her love interest. She then faces the ultimate journey of the cruelest of all the revenges, her husband’s honor, while she becomes a local prostitute. In this light we see Roberto (Fernando Rodrigues), he is arrogant and feels numb towards life, after meeting the Duchess he finds what he is waiting for, a light in the end of the tunnel.
Part of the Spectrum section at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, the beautifully shot pics embodies a theatre atmosphere, where you can feel part of the story while witnessing her ultimate secrets and sorrows. Rita Durão shines in every scene and Fernando Rodrigues amazingly supports while she gives the performance of a lifetime.
Anny Gomes: Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Les diaboliques was previously adapted as a film version back in 1921 by Robert Wiene. Can you tell us why the decision to adapt this specific story and what direction did you decide to take when you were writing the script?
Rita Azevedo Gomes: About Wiene’s film it’s funny… I just found out about that movie a few days ago, by the text the Rotterdam Festival Organization was preparing for the catalog. While reading – for the first time (in 1993) – La Vengeance d’Une Femme I wanted to turn that story into a film. By that time, Life itself was being too demanding with me. The extreme facts that I was really living pushed me ahead to find my way to survival. So I wondered how far can one go? There is an immense richness in human soul. It seems to me now, that I was in the propitious mood to be so impressed by such a story – I was caught by the way how unforeseeable and so powerful motion of soul was expressed in the text. That same year I wrote the first script. The idea of a making a kind of Racconto came in then. It could allow me to stay close to the power and beauty of the words. I also knew from the beginning I needed to be in a studio! And mainly I needed the intelligence of a Great actress.
Gomes: It was a good idea to place the movie in a studio as it gave me the feeling of being in an actual play watching these amazing performances. What was your inspiration to bring us so close to the story as if we were also witnesses of her revenge?
R.A.G.: An old cinema studio is such a sacred place. It has its own soul. You enter there with respect. It requires concentration, precision, silence, and mostly attention. Although I had a previous period of work with the actors, mainly with Rita Durão, I never felt as if I were in a theater place. Every word, gesture, movement, intention, was searched to be filmed from a certain point of view, to turn into an image. In other words: If I had been directing the actors for a theater play I’m sure all the process would have been totally different. The deeper we went in the pleasure of text, clearer things were brought to surface – But the final aim was always the image. It is nice that you might have felt a little bit like the actor (Roberto), as a witness…
Gomes: As I said before, the acting is superb. Rita Durão’s embodiment of the character is stellar. Even though it is a period piece, it brings feelings which we can relate to in the present day (such as revenge, memories and numbness). You were in charge of the casting and thetext as well, tell me a little more about your work in these areas.
R.A.G.: I think the movie is quite actual. What’s new? Vanity, rudeness, hate, brutality, selfishness, darkness… and beauty, enlightenment, grace, curiosity… in the endless universe that feeds on itself.
As to the cast: Along the years some ideas of actresses occurred to me. At a certain point I thought I would need an Italian actress, so I went to Italy. In Torino I met a fabulous actress. I saw her in a theater play. Time passed, she got too old for the role. I even considered work the original text, in french. But ‘my home’ is the Portuguese language. It’s quite amazing to think of all the detours I made – in the end the first ideas reappeared and stayed. Meanwhile I had the chance of working Rita in two films I made. Films with practically no money that had to be shot in very few days. This left me the wish of getting to working with Rita Durão in more ‘generous’ conditions.
On what concerns the scenario: We had just a week in the studio to prepare and built everything before start shooting. I’m very, very, very interfering. My eyes (and hands!) are restless over it all. I can’t help it!
Gomes: You decided to make this film 14 years ago, why did you took so long to put this plan into motion and what were the difficulties to bring this project to life?
Gomes: How does it feel to be a part of Rotterdam? What do you think it will bring to the Portuguese cinema industry?
R.A.G.:It’s a great joy! A great joy! In the present time, where the way for a certain kind of cinema is getting so narrow, it takes some boldness to be indulgent to a film which, I believe, doesn’t exactly fit in what currently is seen nowadays. We are diving severe currents concerning Cinema. Let’s see what happens in March when the movie comes out in Portugal.
Gomes: What is your next project?
R.A.G.: Among other possibilities, I’ve been dragging a project for about six, seven years… A superb original text that Agustina Bessa-Luís wrote at my request. I had asked her to adapt one story by Robert Müsil… She did it! This is wonderful. Let’s hope this movie finds its way in the ‘Portuguese cinema industry’.