"Turning morals on their head in this story of metamorphosis whilst retaining the viewer's empathy"
by Bénédicte Prot
- CANNES 2016: Interview with Julia Ducournau, the director of Raw, the debut feature that took the audience’s breath away in Critics’ Week
We met with French director Julia Ducournau, the director of Raw [+see also:
interview: Julia Ducournau
film profile], the debut feature that took the audience’s breath away in Critics’ Week at the 69th Cannes Film Festival.
Cineuropa: Raw has good continuity with your short film, Junior, and your film for TV, Mange, but this time, you take things to the extreme. What made you make this leap?
Julia Ducournau: Actually, since Junior, I’d been working on the metamorphosis of my main character, a primarily physical metamorphosis, but also in her transition to adulthood and femininity. In Raw, I decided to add an ethical dimension to this metamorphosis; I thought it would be interesting to turn morals on their head at some point in the film, whilst retaining the viewer’s empathy. That presented me with an interesting challenge as a screenwriter, because it’s not easy to get the viewer to accept something they all-out reject at first glance. So I thought about what I consider mankind’s three taboos: incest, murder and cannibalism, and I thought the third went well with the spirit of my work on the body, its metamorphosis and its opening up. And that’s how I ended up with something so extreme!
So it’s about your heroine freeing herself from something, but that said, you could ask yourself whether she’s freeing or damning herself…
It’s a bit of both. I tried to broach the subject of cannibalism as liberation, or rather something that releases her from the determinism of school and fresher initiations and the family determinism of vegetarianism (determinism on the surface, at least!), or rather the traditions that have been imposed on her all her life: it’s a sort of punk gesture that allows her to get out of this stranglehold. It’s also something that marks her transition to adulthood rather tragically and suddenly determines the person she’ll turn into because right then and there, she has a choice: either kill people to eat, satisfying a primal need, or get herself into an ethical straightjacket and look to the humanity inside.
You chose a setting that lends itself perfectly to Justine’s experience, a veterinary school. How did you take charge of and incorporate this place?
To begin with, I thought about setting the action in a school of medicine, but I realised very quickly that in such an environment, she would only have to go down to the morgue to snack on corpses, and suddenly there was no film. Nevertheless, I wanted to stay in the realm of medecine, due to the associated problems with the body and the opening up of the body, as I wanted to film that – inside and out – and I had certain scenes in mind, of dissections for example. So I naturally turned to veterinary school, which clearly and metaphorically conveys the animalistic side of her well, and visually, it threw up some interesting parallels.
Indeed, as extreme as it is, the project has an astonishing coherence to it: in spite of what we see Justine do, the gaze she is subjected to remains discreet and on the delicate side throughout the film.
The main challenge was to make the viewer understand her actions, we had to give reason to them that would allow the viewer to identify with the character. The orgasm is one such reason, but even more so, she bites herself so as not to bite anyone else, and because she has morals: she’s someone who would rather hurt herself than the people she loves, meaning she’s not an animal and we can therefore understand her.
The film is rooted in the territory of arthouse film, but it echoes certain big film references that flirt with genre film…
It was more about influences – in particular, David Cronenberg’s films, along with those of David Lynch – as I didn’t want to slap anything over the film. I merely tried, when I needed, to reflect scenes that I like on the same subjects to see what road other people have gone down and decide what I wanted to do with them.
(Translated from French)