'Wild Diamond'

Source: Cannes Film Festival

‘Wild Diamond’

The only debut filmmaker in this year’s Competition and one of just four women in the Palme d’Or lineup, Agathe Riedinger explores the global obsession with beauty and fame and the omnipresence of social media in Wild Diamond.

The film tells of 19-year-old Liane, living with her mother and younger sister in the drab southern French port town of Fréjus; she sets out to earn a spot on a reality TV show called Miracle Island, driven by a desire to escape a life devoid of parental affection and with limited opportunities.

“I’m obsessed with the question of beauty, and of extreme femininity and oversexualisation,” says Riedinger, a graduate of the Paris art and design school École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. “I have a passion for bad taste. I think it’s beautiful.”

Riedinger’s journey to making her first feature began with 2017 short film Waiting For Jupiter, which made the rounds at festivals such as Clermont-Ferrand, was shortlisted for a César award and caught the attention of Paris-based producer Priscilla Bertin, who runs Silex Films with partner Judith Nora. Bertin praises the short’s “visual style”, adding: “I saw an artistic direction and signature style that we don’t usually see in France.”

Riedinger explains: “I always wanted to make a film about reality TV, a subject of both fanatic attraction and utter repulsion. Everyone is connected to it closely in one way or another, either because they are obsessed with it or because they obstinately refuse to watch it.”

This theme, along with the main character and plot of her short, was the blueprint for Wild Diamond. Riedinger spent four years writing the script and ironing out every detail. “I’ve never seen mood boards so precise,” says Bertin, who secured financing based on “a very strong script”. Co-producers are France 2 Cinéma and Germaine Films, with additional funding from CNC, Canal+, France Télévisions, Ciné+, regional aid and other investors. Pyramide International is handling sales, and Pyramide Distribution will release it in France.

Lens of social media

In Wild Diamond, Riedinger set out to explore the way women are viewed and often misjudged through a social media filter or TV screen. While reality TV is omnipresent in the film, the fictional reality show Miracle Island is never seen on screen, nor are photos of Liane on her own social media account. Viewers only see comments aimed at Liane as superimposed text on the screen, showing how — over the course of the story — her following grows and she comes to bask in the admiration of strangers.

In the role of Liane, Riedinger cast Malou Khebizi, a 19-year-old nonprofessional actress whom casting director Julie Allione found at a street casting. It was early in the process and Riedinger waited a few months before finally offering Khebizi the role. “I took my time validating the choice since she is very close to her character, so we had to work on separating the two personalities,” she explains.

Several scenes involve nudity, tracking Liane’s relationship with her own body. “There are many ‘intimate’ scenes, but intimacy doesn’t necessarily mean sex or naked bodies,” says Riedinger. “For all the scenes involving intimacy on every level, we worked with an acting coach and I took the time to explain to each actor how I would film them, and showed them detailed drawings. There was a mutual confidence. Malou trusted me, and had a joy and appetite to create something together.”

Such scenes are key to the story. “It’s about questioning the idea of sexuality. Are these women oversexualised or is it a sign of emancipation and exerting their freedom?” asks Riedinger.

Bertin adds: “We hope audiences have personal journeys in the way in which they look at this girl in particular and, even long after the film, how we look at women like her and how we judge them.”

Wild Diamond shot in and around Fréjus, 40km down the coast from Cannes, from early April to mid-May of 2023, wrapping one year to the day ahead of its premiere at the festival.

“Cannes is the holy grail of glamour, and for influencers or reality TV stars whose goal is to climb the social ladder,” says Riedinger. In other words, it is a fitting setting to premiere her first film.