Thomas Harris chats with Raw director Julia Ducournau…
There’s currently an unprecedented buzz around Julia Ducournau’s feminist, cannibal-come-coming-of-age horror, Raw. It helps in part that during its debut screening at Toronto film festival last year, it was met by audience members fainting, vomiting and a collective sea of shock gasps. Rather proudly, I was not one of those with whom last night’s supper returned, although I did watch it through clenched fingers.
Raw is one of the finest films of the years thus far and I was lucky enough to chat with director Julia Ducournau about the male gaze, the importance of an unimposing eye and her first cinematic loves.
Could you possibly explain the choice of the veterinary school (the film is set during the first week of “hazing” of new students training to be vets)?
It was very deliberate, it was the whole point of the aesthetics, animal muscle and human muscle contrasting one another and I really wanted us to be reminded visually without having to use dialogue and stuff like that. For me, the image has to speak for itself before you add the dialogue so it was a good way to remind us of the internal struggle she was going through in between her cravings and her impulses and her desire to stay a functioning member of society and how in the end, through this struggle, she’s going to be revealed as a human being.
But this thing between animality and her humanity had to be very clear on-screen, that’s why I chose not only the vet school for the animals, but for the society it implies, for the crowd, for the students, for the outside look.
You have a very unimposing eye. How tough was it to avoid any clear sexualizing of Justine?
Of course, that was really important for me to not sexualize her with my camera but to talk about her sexuality and to portray her as a sexual being for many reasons. The first thing, of course, the female body is sexualized nowadays to please men or are glamourized to set goals for women and all this is just fantasy, there’s no truth to it and as a woman, I can’t relate to this and I think men struggle to relate too. They know it’s not the truth. I wanted us to identify with the character and by us, I mean everyone in the room. And I do believe a point of identification comes from the triviality and we all have bodies that are suffering, that are stinky sometimes, that are gross but are endearing and funnily gross and this is something I really believe in, this universality through triviality.
That’s why it was really important for me to portray her body like this, especially as well knowing that I’m going to portray the birth of sexuality in her that I wanted it to be something unapologetic and shameless and it was all about the body and not about the perception of other, nor the apprehension of the after, that it was a here and now, in the needs of this body. I did not want to powder it to make it the “pretty body,” there was no make up on her body ever, and the lights were made to show her pores, to show her dark rings, her hair, her sweat, it had to be very organic.
What films inspired you? There seems to be a shared genetic pool with Cronenberg and Zulawski’s Possession…
Cronenberg, clearly, is the most influential filmmaker who’s work I met on my own. I chose it myself, I watched it myself, no one recommended it to me, my parents didn’t take me to see his movies and I chose him, I chose his work. And with my work, I learnt to appreciate it fully and I keep on going back to it. I don’t think movies should be easy, and his certainly are not. You feel like it shakes you deep down and you don’t know why, so he’s a major influence. Yet there are no direct references of his movies in Raw. But the way he sees bodies and the way he films them and his vision of cinema in general is a big influence.
Zulawski’s Possession I showed Garance (Marillier) in order to-she was scared of going from one state to the other and not managing to hit the right notes every time-so I told her that if you want to see someone that lets go completely and abandons herself completely you have to see that movie.
It must have taken a certain leap of faith with Garance Marillier to be so committed?
This has been the third movie we’ve worked on together and we’re very very close so we’ve built up a lot of trust with each other throughout the years as it’s been seven years since we started working together so I think, when you go this far on a set and you can really rely on each other. I trust her that she can go very far and she trusts that I will never take her somewhere she doesn’t want to go. On this basis you can go very very far.
Many thanks to Julia Ducournau for taking the time for this interview. Read our review of Raw here.