You better learn to remember the name of French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, who made a big splash last year at Cannes with her take on the cannibal movie, “Raw.” The film, which premiered as part of Critics’ Week, justly won the FIPRESCI prize and set her on the map for cinematic stardom. A new, unique voice was born.
In “Raw,” the 32 year-old writer-director shows surprisingly sharp command and, more importantly, indelible restraint for the usually over-the-top genre. The film, joining “The Witch,” “The Babadook,” “It Follows” and “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” in this decade’s horror-film new wave, is rooted in arthouse territory, and is particularly inspired by the oeuvres of David Cronenberg and David Lynch. However, “Raw” turns out to be its own wild animal. Julia Ducournau’s uncompromising vision is one to watch.
The film, about bright-eyed Justine’s (Garance Marillier) first week at veterinary school, is soaked in surreal atmosphere, darkly lensed by Ruben Impens, as it follows the hazing rituals that happen on opening week at the school. Justine is a vegetarian, but that doesn’t stop her from being disgustingly forced to eat bloody, raw pig’s liver, one of the many un-vegetarian rituals she will have to obey by to survive the first week. That first bite sparks something in Justine that she never felt before — has she actually been missing out on the pleasures of the flesh all her life?
Using the “Brutalist” architecture of the college, with eerily spacious wide shots reminiscent of “Suspiria” meshed with the production design of “Carrie” (along with a playful nod to that film’s famous pig-blood scene), Julia Ducournau knows how to create tension with the most minimalist of circumstances. She’s a talent of the highest order, and we spoke to her about the film, her experience at Cannes, the horror-movie revival happening today and her take on the incident at TIFF where seizures and fainting occurred during the screening of the film.
Tell me how this project all began.
My producer Jean de Forêts and I started talking about cannibal movies [and] also space-creature films, and why most of them had unsympathetic or non-human-like protagonists. I wanted to created someone you could have empathy for, I wanted to go from “they” to “I,” and I think it’s interesting to put the “I” back into the cannibal just to try and tackle this subject, which is so repulsed by everyone and easily repressed by all of us. It disturbs very deeply because it’s talking about our own humanity and what we belong to.
I’ve also always been very obsessed with bodies, and among all taboos that really challenge our sense of humanity and our vision of humanity, a cannibal is the thing that, of course, only talks about bodies. And since I’m crazy about filming bodies and I’m crazy about talking about the bodily metamorphosis, which, in a way, really challenges our sense of identity, it was very important for me to try to recreate or add more metamorphosis [to] my character.
How long was the shoot?
Well, you know, you never have enough time; even if you have a thousand days, it’ll never be enough. But the thing is, we did not have to delete or erase a scene, which was always my biggest fear, to be honest, because…the way I write is very important. It has a temporality which is very fluid, it’s very scene-by-scene and that way, it’s like an impulse or a heartbeat, if you will. It’s very important to me because when I talk about impulses, I want to tackle the impulse of everything I write. What’s in between isn’t very interesting to me, and I’m not very interested in installation shots, [which] mean nothing to me. That’s why, if you take a scene out, everything else falls apart because every single scene is a new step towards my aim and towards the end of my movie. The whole structure ends up getting messed up. And fortunately, with these 37 days, we managed to not take anything out of the movie.