Agathe Riedinger’s debut about a teenage wannabe influencer impresses in Competition at Cannes

Wild Diamond

Source: Cannes

‘Wild Diamond’

Dir/scr: Agathe Riedinger. France. 2024. 104mins.

Nineteen-year-old Liane (Malou Khebizi) is a fantasy. She has shaped herself into her idea of the perfect woman – an exaggerated, caricatured version of hypersexualised invitation. She dreams of celebrity and success, the two inextricably connected in her mind. So when she is called in for an audition for a reality television show titled ’Miracle Island’, it seems that her destiny has been ordained. But the attitude, the aggressive artificiality and the obsession with being true to herself conceals the fact Liane is, in many ways, still very much an unwritten book. The feisty restlessness of Agathe Riedinger’s impressive feature debut belies the profound sadness of its central theme – that for many young women, beauty and pain are one and the same.

Khebizi unpeels the fake hair and lashes to reveal an emotional battleground

Riedinger first created the character of aspiring reality show contestant Liane in her 2018 short Waiting For Jupiter (in this version she was played by Sarah-Megan Allouch), and subsequently directed another short, Eve (2019), which also dealt with themes of female identity. Wild Diamond has a kinship with last year’s Cannes breakout title, Molly Manning Walker’s How To Have Sex: both deal with the performative pressures on young women to act out a kind of sexuality that is far removed from their true nature. And there are parallels also with Sweat, the previous film of fellow Cannes competition newbie Magnus Van Horn, which traced the cracks in the glassy perfection of the life of a fitness influencer. Audiences will likely be impressed by the film’s refusal to look down on its central character, while also offering a brutally clear-eyed appraisal of the forces that shape her.

The older of two daughters of a struggling single mother in the backwater of Fréjus in the South of France, Liane feels that fame is the only viable option she has to better her life. The route she has planned, following her reality television debut, will take in product endorsements and a role as influencer, maybe a bit of acting. “People will love me, they will want to see me,” she reasons.

But as the days and weeks pass, and Liane hears nothing from the TV production company, her already short fuse burns faster and she lashes out at those around her. Rejection is personal – hadn’t she offered to show “the real me” to the cameras? “What if you don’t get it?” asks Dino (Idir Azougli), her friend from her years in the care system and the only significant male character in the film. “I’ll kill myself,” Liane says emphatically.

She is a confounding character: a woman who has created an X-rated adult persona but who remains, emotionally, as unformed as a child – she is, we learn, a virgin who has never had a boyfriend. Her look is hyper-feminine, all cartoon curves and teetering shoes made of glitter and agony, but she has a pugnacious scrapper’s stance: shoulders forward, brows knit. She craves the affirmation of the desire that she arouses, and she is simultaneously terrified and repelled by it. And who can blame her? There’s a violence in the lust that she provokes. On two separate occasions, men throw stuff at her to claim her attention; comments on her Instagram account are punctuated by threats of sexual annihilation and suggestions that she should kill herself.

Shot in a TV-frame aspect ratio and with colours that feel slightly heightened and brash, like the daubs from Liane’s eye-shadow palette, Khebizi is terrific in the role. It’s tempting to assume that a character this superficially showy must have very little going on inside. But Khebizi unpeels the fake hair and lashes to reveal an emotional battleground. There’s a terrific moment, after an aborted attempt at intimacy with Dino, when she tentatively tries to touch herself and feels nothing. Her expression – disappointment, fear, confusion – speaks volumes.

Liane doesn’t realise, or she won’t admit it, but the ache inside her is not something that can be healed by a Brazilian butt implant or a new crotch-length dress. As her feet, bleeding and throbbing from the accrued punishment of her shoes, suggest, pain is just something she is going to have to live with.

Production company: Silex Films

International sales: Pyramide International

Producers: Priscilla Bertin, Judith Nora

Cinematography: Noé Bach

Production Design: Astrid Tonellier

Editing: Lila Desiles

Music: Audrey Ismaël

Main cast: Malou Khebizi, Idir Azougli, Andréa Bescond, Ashley Romano, Alexis Manenti, Kilia Fernane, Léa Gorla, Alexandra Noisier, Antonia Buresi