‘Wild Diamond’ Review: Agathe Reidinger’s Drama About a 19-Year-Old Girl in Thrall to the False Gods of Social Media and Reality TV Announces the Arrival of a Major Filmmaker (2024)

Religion, Karl Marx said, is the opiate of the masses. Today, he would likely say that the opiate of the masses is fame — the desire for it, the things you have to do to get it, the fragmentary nature of it (the old “15 minutes” is now, in many cases, more like 15 seconds), and everything it’s supposed to bring you. The new fame, the lusty fickle kind bred by social media, is at the center of “Wild Diamond,” a startlingly bold and true French drama that premiered today at Cannes.

It tells the story of Liane (Malou Khebizi), a 19-year-old glam trainwreck who lives with her mother and kid sister in the town of Fréjus in Southern France. Liane’s entire existence is driven by her compulsion to connect with the up-from-nowhere apparatus of fame, the kind that transforms people on Instagram and TikTok —and, the subject of “Wild Diamond,” reality TV — into overnight spangly vessels of adoration.

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In the first scene, Liane is in a department store, stealing things, because that’s the only way she can afford to tart herself up into what she wants to look like. The look is no mere look — it’s a state of being. She’s wearing short-short jeans and a skintight mesh top, with hair that consists of a blonde layer that falls over a dark-roots layer. She has had her breasts done, and she’s had hydraulic acid injected into her lips, an amateur procedure that gives her the pout of a party doll. With all that laid atop her natural beauty, she’s striking enough in a harshly voluptuous way to look like Brigitte Bardot as a dysfunctional shopping-mall Barbie.

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Liane preens and twerks and taunts her friends and posts her selfies. That’s her life. But here’s how the movie works. When she’s shoplifting that fake bling, we appraise her with a cool objectivity; our feelings of judgment are far from positive. But then, when she’s back home, she takes out the plastic jewels and uses glue to affix them to the back of the five-inch heels she’s about to put on. As she removes her platform sandals, we notice the red welts on her ankle (from wearing nothing but f*ck-me pumps). And in that moment, her desperation to accessorize her look into something desirable becomes not just superficial or narcissistic or deluded. It becomes heartbreaking. This is her world. It’s the values she has because it’s the values the culture has taught her.

Of course, it’s not just her appearance that Liane is selling, the oooo!-look-at-me-I-could-be-in-the-sex-industry transgression. She’s a Catholic girl who’s in touch with sin (even though she has never slept with anyone), which is why, in her eyes, she has to suffer for her celebrity. When she inks a homemade tattoo onto her abdomen, it’s really a penance. (She’s shivering with pain, until she records her Instagram post about it, which is as chirpy with girl power as an infomercial.) But she’s also pushing the attitude that goes with the tat: the hyped aggression, which in her case is a fusion of hip-hop braggadocio and reality-TV confrontation. After all, it’s by being in your face that one attracts attention, and gains followers, and become “famous,” and becomes an influencer, and makes a fortune, at which point one is presumably…fulfilled.

The trick, for Liane, is how she draws the fame-whor* theatrics out of her inner misery. Her trauma fuels her outrage. She puts on a show for the world because “authentic” is what sells. The actress Malou Khebizi, who first played this character in a short, inhabits her with a surly dynamism that sears the screen. Liane is all about vanity, yet there isn’t a trace of vanity to this performance, which is tethered to Liane’s every volatile mood swing. Khebizi reminded me, at moments, of Sandrine Bonaire in “À nos amours” — her acting has that kind of layered combustibility. The story of Liane isn’t just that she’s furious. It’s that she’s in thrall to a false god.

A reality-TV producer leaves a message on Liane’s voicemail. She was impressed by the exhibitionism of Liane’s social-media posts, and asks her to come in and interview for a spot on “Miracle Island,” a reality show about 15 pretty young people living together in a beach house. So Liane is getting her shot. In the interview, she projects the right bad-girl attitude, encouraged by the producer who says, “We don’t want a goody-goody.” The way the shows are packaged, the cast members are encouraged to sell themselves to each other (when they’re not hating on each other). That’s how they become “stars.”

The riveting revelation of “Wild Diamond” is that the film’s first-time writer-director, Agathe Riedinger, tells this story — the story of Liane’s life, and the story of the corrupt dreams all of us are being sold — with a clear-eyed dramatic power worthy of Andrea Arnold or the Dardenne brothers (or, in a lighter way, the Sofia Coppola of “The Bling Ring”). She flashes the comments to Liane’s SM posts onscreen, in a dizzying combination of worship and hate (“Vengeance is your glory.” “She just wants to be f*cked.” “Kill yourself”). And the scenes with Liane at home are devastating, because they cleave our empathy in half. Her mother, who is out of work and spends her time shacking up with “sugar daddies,” has given up on Liane — with her lying, her stealing, her selfishness. And we see how she could feel that way.

Yet the family’s unhappiness, at root, is driven by economics. Liane has an employment counselor she couldn’t be more bored with, because she doesn’t want to toil for the Man. No, she wants it all: the fantasy of affluence. If Karl Marx were here, he’d have a lot to say about how social media and reality TV work — how the leaders of the new Gilded Age, which is sucking all the money up to the top, have designed these diversions as a way of hoodwinking everyone else. It’s like the lottery with lip gloss and spandex: a way for the masses to “have it all.” As if being a TikTok dance-craze icon or a reality-TV star, who then becomes an influencer — a nobody who gets to be the corporate flavor of the month — were a viable career option.

Liane meets a biker kid (Alexis Manenti) and seems to develop a romantic attraction to him (the feeling is mutual), but these scenes drag a bit. Then again, the whole movie is designed as a (deceptive) downward spiral. After a while, it appears that the reality-TV producer has ghosted Liane. And why wouldn’t she? There are a thousand girls out there just like her. But the film’s ending surprises you. After all the despair, the piling up of glitzy delusion, there’s a feeling of redemption to it connected to what a good movie can do. Seated on an airplane high in the sky, Liane looks out the window, and the light of the sun catches her eye just so. The false god has smiled. And the audience feels blessed,by the arrival of a filmmaker this accomplished.

‘Wild Diamond’ Review: Agathe Reidinger’s Drama About a 19-Year-Old Girl in Thrall to the False Gods of Social Media and Reality TV Announces the Arrival of a Major Filmmaker (2024)
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