500 Days Of Film Reviews Raw, Starring Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf And Rabah Nait Oufella
Everyone in Justine (Garance Marillier)'s family is a vet - and a vegetarian. At 16, she’s a brilliant and promising student. However, when she starts at veterinary school, she enters a decadent, merciless and dangerously seductive world.
During the first week of horrific hazing rituals, desperate to fit in whatever the cost, Justine strays from her family principles and eats raw meat for the first time. The consequences of her actions are shocking as her true self begins to emerge.
Is It Any Good?
Physical transformations lie at the heart of writer/director Julia Ducournau's work. Her made-for-television movie, Mange, tells the story of a once-obese girl who seeks revenge after meeting the person who bullied her at school. Meanwhile, her short film, Junior, follows the reptilian mutation of a teenage tomboy into a young woman.
Raw, Ducournau’s superb first feature film, takes a similar path. This shocking, visceral and darkly funny film witnesses the awakening of a young girl’s true desires. Brilliantly played by Garance Marillier (who also starred in Junior), we see Justine’s transformation from naive young girl into a fierce and powerful woman - all via some undeniably icky, decidedly non-vegetarian encounters.
Indeed, there are many moments of body horror in Raw - calling the work of David Cronenberg to mind. “He’s a director who means a great deal to me,” says Ducournau.
“In his films we see a lot of mutilated, wounded bodies… It could seem overly violent, but he doesn’t compromise with death. He doesn’t use words, to try to intellectualise or soften it, but images. It’s very real. I like that. If the image says something, there’s no reason to add words to explain it. Cronenberg is the director who has best filmed the psychoanalytic aspect of metamorphosis.”
Beneath Raw’s shocking body horror lies a fascinating exploration of female sexuality. Society pushes Justine (via the film’s brutal hazing) to confront her sexuality before she is ready to embrace it and we sense her fear and discomfort. However, the moment that she starts to enjoy the power of her sexuality, she is shunned and made to feel guilty for her actions.
“Raw is centered on the construction of identity and moral standards inside a perverted system - that of ‘hazing’ and that of family." Ducournau explains. “If sex is significant, atavism is central. My Justine will shape herself around her urges - a family curse… she will become assertive, discover her true self and accept - or reject - her difference...
“My mother is a staunch feminist," Ducournau continues. "Through her work [as a gynecologist] she instilled in me her concern for women’s paths and a sense of solidarity… She told me repeatedly that there’s nothing a man can do that a woman can’t.”
In Raw, Ducournau takes this discussion to many interesting and thrilling places. While visually stunning (the film was shot by Ruben Impens), many scenes prove difficult to watch. However, even in the midst of the horror, Justine and her sister Alexia (wonderfully played by Ella Rumpf) always feel human. Indeed, the truth of their relationship is one of the strongest elements of the film.
“A sister is also an accomplice with whom you can share an intimacy without any real embarrassment,” says Ducournau. “I like my female characters to have an organic, uninhibited relationship with their bodies… Between sisters, the body is never a source of shame.”
Raw is a breathtaking movie - an entertaining and uncompromising film from a truly exciting and impressive new director. I, for one, can’t wait to see what Julia Ducournau does next.
The French title of Ducournau’s film is Grave. The director explains that this word is “incorrectly and excessively used in colloquial French, and in the process it’s lost its strength and true meaning. Yet ‘grave’ is gravity, in the physical sense, something that falls upon us, that nails us to the ground, that weighs on us. It’s real, concrete and important.”
Garance Marillier’s character, Justine, is named after Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue, by the Marquis de Sade - the story of an innocent young woman who becomes an object of sexual pleasure and ends up herself taking pleasure in it.
Initially, Ducournau planned to set her film in a medical school. However, she didn’t feel that this would work: “it was too simple; there was no longer a film there. Besides, the idea of shooting cadavers the whole time wasn’t inspiring. I don’t like sleazy movies. I hope my film isn’t like that and that it brings a breath of liberating air.”
Have you seen Raw?
If you have, what did you think about Julia Ducournau’s film? Let me know in the comments section below or over on Twitter (@500daysoffilm) or Facebook!