One of my favorite films from the Philadelphia Film Festival Raw opens in Philly Friday, March 17th at the Ritz at the Bourse. It’s a very different spin on the coming of age tale as a young woman who has never tasted meat before suddenly develops some very strange cravings when she is finally exposed to eating animal flesh in a college initiation. Julia Ducournau’s directorial debut is not for the squeamish and was easily one of the best horror films you will see this year. Gorgeously shot, thoughtful and unflinching and Raw is a strange mix of Suspiria and Cannibal Holocaust that is smart as it is touching in how it tackles one woman’s struggle growing up while attending the same college as her older sister.
In anticipation for the film’s Philly debut I got a few moments to speak with the film’s director who directed Raw as her feature debut. Julia was kind enough to share not only a bit about what went into some of the decisions behind the film’s narrative, but also a bit on being a female filmmaker in a genre dominated by men.
Enjoy and be sure to check the film out at the Ritz at the Bourse on Friday!
As a woman director, with directing being a job where you are very much in charge and that’s a position where women are not typically being employed as much in the horror genre. Did you face any challenges in the script to screen process, which you think a male director might now have had to deal with?
I think during the process of writing and directing my movie, no. Since Cannes, basically I started doing interviews and Q&As and I have never been asked so many times that question and I think that is very disturbing, you know. Because when I write, I just write and I tell the story I want to tell and I don’t think I am writing as a female film writer/director. So it’s like being reminded of my gender over the last year that has made me very disturbed, because I didn’t think it was that much of an issue before that and I realize it is very much now.
You combine in your narrative social commentary, comedy, gender and horror so effortlessly and fluid in Raw. What were some of the influences that helped you craft the film?
So the thing is when I write and I direct, I really, really try for once not to watch the movies that I love to watch in real life. I try not to be tempted to reproduce anything, I am kind of scare of that. I never go back to my main influences when I do the job. The funny thing is I do not make any direct reference to any of the main filmmakers, like Cronenberg, Argento or Lynch who are a holy trinity in my life, there is a however a direct Carrie reference, you know Brian De Palma. Carrie is a movie I like very much but it wasn’t a foundation experience for me, even though I love it, like how strong it is with a Cronenberg for example.
I did it because lots of members in the audience would think to themselves the premise of the movie, so I decided to make a small wink to it and play with this reference so we can move on to the next scene.
A lot of people have said they see Suspiria, and its funny because Suspiria is was one of the biggest shocks in my life when I saw it. Even though I didn’t think about it when I was writing or directing when someone tells me this, I am like yeah I think I understand it. Somehow its unconscious, but your identity is also what you’ve watched, what you’ve liked and what you’ve reacted to.
So why did you choose cannibalism?
I personally like to explore before I start writing the script, all the different routes my movie could go to. Just before writing the first treatment I was thinking who is my main character? What age is he or she? Is it a he or a she? Is it in med school or vet school? I take notes on all the different routes it could go. I thought that considering cannibalism is all about the body, and that is why I chose this subject. I am completely obsessed with the bodies, in genre movies I do believe its possible to read the psyche of the character through their body. If you think about a movie like The Fly for example, with that film you can turn off the sound and you can what’s inside him through his body.
So I knew it was going to be about that, I knew it was going to be a coming of age because I would have to tackle the birth of sexuality in someone. I thought I would have more to defend with a female character, than a male character because when I had to portray the sexuality I want to portray something else than the more cerebral, unsure, timid, victim way opposed to how young women are portrayed on our screens. Am I going to have a bad reputation? Am I going to be called a slut? Is this the right guy? Is he going to call me and stuff like that. All this is in the head and in the mind, not in the body.
For me sexuality is the body and I really wanted to put the sexuality back in the female’s body. A body that is desiring, aiming at climax, like every other body to make it unapologetic and shameless; that was very important to me.
I love how at the center of this film you have Justine’s emotional struggle with conformity and how that affects her relationship with her sister, was it hard to make sure the more transgressive elements didn’t override that story?
Balancing this was very natural to me. The most important thing is the story I am talking about. It is indeed this personal story of someone who discovers her animality and discovers she doesn’t fit in as much as she wants to. Its also this story about these two sisters that inevitably have to separate at some point and love each other very much, but have opposite visions of what they are. So that was the main thing for me, afterwards it just so happens that what they are cannibals.
So it implies of course these questions of how much am I going to show in my movie. For me everything has to be essential to the narrative and there is nothing gratuitous in what I do, I hate gratuitous violence, not because it shocks me but it disinterests me. At some point it makes you desensitized and after 10 minutes of the movie, you’re like yeah I’ve seen it. For me it was very important that what I was going to show made sense in the journeys of my characters. I had to build up the empathy for this character, I was not going to show her eating brains 5 minutes in, I never had the temptation to make a shocker or a gore fest.
Thematically and metaphorically your film is so tightly written and executed, it felt like the story could go anywhere at anytime. I know it was closely related to Junior, your short film, but how much of a change was there from the first draft of the script to the final product?
For me its not really a sequel to Junior, there are a lot of common themes for sure, the body metamorphosis being at the center and the discovery of one’s femininity and humanity being another one. Also of course both of my characters are named Justine because of the trajectory of the character made sense when you think about the work of the Marquis de Sade. But for me they are two distinct characters the Justine of Junior and the Justine of Raw are not the same person. However, say you ask me if it was hard for me to pinpoint my character while writing it, the answer is yes. Funny enough a character like Adrian was very clear to me he has changed very little from the first draft to the seventh draft. One the contrary Justine’s character was very hard to pinpoint for me, until the third or fourth draft I could not relate to her in an intimate or organic way.
I knew what her journey towards humanity was going to be and all this was very clear, but she did not move me. For me I cannot defend a character if I am not moved by him or her. So it took me a long time and I got the click when I started realizing she had flaws. Her flaws made me relate to her for example, she is not such a good sister to be honest, she’s quite annoying and I put myself in the shoes of the older sister and I wanted to slap her in the face, so annoying, you know.
I started imagining all the flaws, the defective character and the body flaws and this is when I could actually relate to her. I believe that flaws are a good entry point into a character, rather than someone who is so funny or so smart, I cant relate to a character like this and that is how I got her.