Bloody Glory: Julia Ducournau’s “Raw” (2016) – An experience

Hey, TWR readers,

I know it’s not Wednesday but in the spirit of blogging, I wanted to talk about a film experience I had last month and a write a topical analysis of the film. I will admit, my background in reviewing anything derives from literature thesis writing and editorial. But I think I have the right amount of copious language in my history to talk about an afternoon journey to Houston Street, to France, to a frenetic journey of blood… of sorts.

I don’t usually mind seeing films alone in any theater, let alone an independent film center in the belly of New York where I get to pretend that I am le critique, par excellence. However, I am not a huge fan of horror films in general. Indeed, my interest in horror or thrillers only extends to how aesthetically pleasant the film truly is. After a quick peek at the advert for “Raw” (2016), a film that relies as much on dramatic technique as it does any semblance of the grotesque, I just had to see this thing for myself. I would already be in the city doing some research and a film would be a treat, right?

As is my luck, there was only one theater screening the film: the Angelika Film Center on W. 18th Houston Street, a unimposing theater at a busy corner where students and tourists alike bustle by. Seriously, go check it out. It’s a wonderful theater with a very large first level concessions that is open to patrons and passersby – nachos, beer, and other standard fare. As I purchased my ticket and waited in the lobby, I wondered how packed a French horror film billed as a cannibal’s delight and one where a theatergoer literally fainted. I wouldn’t consider myself among the fainting type at the sight of blood, but I would consider myself incredibly uncomfortable around blood. Good combination, this film and I. As I decided which seat to take as I entered the very empty theater, I couldn’t help but feel faint at the thought of my decision.

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The film opens with a very quiet scene familiar to anyone who watches horror in general: a misty country road on the French countryside accompanied by a car trailing along until… splat. Accident. The scene cuts and jumps to our introduction of our protagonist, Justine (Garance Marillier), at a local rest stop with her parents as they complain about some meat that is in her meal. Justine, and her entire family, are vegetarians. They are also veterinarians. Justine will join her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) at a veterinary school where Justine will encounter work, play, sex, and most importantly, meat. Without giving too much away, this last point is where the arc of the film truly reaches beyond a level of absurdity (yes, even beyond the point of Justine having sex with her gay roommate Adrien, played by Rabah Naït Oufella, in a sense which is as sensual as it is racked with Justine’s own duality). There is a reason I love foreign films so much and this film is one of them. There is something refreshing about watching a gifted cast of actors that one is unfamiliar with and witnessing the boundaries being pushed in filmmaking which are often cast aside in American productions with similar themes. “Raw” is very unique on all accounts. It is obvious even to the unimaginative viewer that Ducournau (director) is happy to play with the subtleties of narration as well as provide moments of gorgeous direction as when Justine mills through the campus party, all light and all ecstasy join her.

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What we are left to grapple with in this film is Justine herself. If we are to parse this film down to its most simple elements, “Raw” is the most unconventional coming-of-age story with a female protagonist who is not attuned to her own self-discovery as perhaps her sister Alexia has come to grips with it. Time and again, viewers watch Justine internalize her own distinct horror at her unusual developments (yes, the huge leap from eating meat to eating human flesh) and yet continue to externalize as she rails at her own sexuality. How much of a connection we are supposed to make from Ducournau’s emphasis on blood and Justine’s own private development, I cannot tell. But it is obvious that in a world governed by what is wrong, we are left to judge Justine and the others by what we know is right. Duality comes into play in all of its forms in this film which both stirs and repulses. Perhaps the Hollywood Reporter was apt to call it “an awakening.”

So, leaving the theater, I was both moved by originality but fully grossed out. Let’s be honest for a moment: who would enjoy seeing a young girl nibble feverishly on her sister’s finger? But, I won’t say this film disappointed in its exploration of the antithesis of humanity (eating one another) as it did fail in keeping me upright in my seat and not looking through occasional latticed fingers.

Rating: One bloody shoulder/5

Until next time,

Genesis

Continue reading “Bloody Glory: Julia Ducournau’s “Raw” (2016) – An experience”

On “Avenue Q”

Hey, TWR readers,

As a way of starting this blog off, I wanted to talk about an excellent experience I had this past week. As you read this blog going forward, it will be no surprise that I enjoy musical theater. As a challenge for 2017, I am made it my own personal point to attend one live event every month. For the month of May, and as a gift from a dear friend, I attended a performance of “Avenue Q.” This off-Broadway production remains one of the longest-running performances. If anyone has seen the production, they know why. The musical is currently being housed by New World Stages on West 50th Street, a deceptively small theater – until you descend its steps. Once inside, the theater holds five stage spaces. “Avenue Q” stands directly opposite the theater for “Church & State”, the current Off-Broadway Alliance Awards Best New Play nominee. Once inside, the small theater envelops you,  drawing you toward the very simple appearing stage design: an apartment network made of faux brick – our Avenue Q. My friend and I scored orchestra row C tickets. Personally, I love orchestra seats. Many prefer mezzanine for better optics. But there is nothing like witnessing actors at work, spit flying across the stage, the tension and energy rippling through the actor’s faces with every line, every movement.

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At this point, what more can be said about a Tony award winning performance which has garnered as much attention now as it first received back in 2003? Indeed, this production hit Broadway during a very competitive Tony Award season, sparking a dash between it, Wicked, and Taboo, a season documented in “ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway” (2007). The show tells the story of Princeton (played by Ben Durocher, alumnus of the Jim Henson Company), a recent college graduate who studied English and finds himself at the end of the line in New York, having come all the way from Avenue A.  Princeton’s journey to find his purpose in life leads him all the way through love and friendship. Did I mention that much of the cast is commandeered by incredible puppets and puppeteers?

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Perhaps this remains the most fascinating thing about “Avenue Q” itself. The production tackles real issues like sex, relationships, and yes, pornography, while using objects we have come to associate with Sesame Street. Indeed, much of the shock stems from that alone, much like dealing with a bunch of clean-cut Mormons threatens the way we might look at a production like “The Book of Mormon.” Indeed, much of the South Park humor is what makes the production so great. While much of what Broadway does today mirrors Hollywood at large – remaking old successes and running on pure nostalgia for old and even young audiences – “Avenue Q” remains fresh and contemporary, even after 13 years into its run. Crude, delightfully offensive, and just plain funny, it is a mark of what live theater can be, something I don’t think Robert Lopez anticipated when he pitched the idea.

So, if you are in New York or have never seen the musical but want to, do so. New World Stages itself is very cozy, there is no bad spot in the theater itself. Prepare yourself for a night of rowdy fun. Prepare yourself to witness Broadway history.

Best,

Genesis