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

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