Raw: French Director Julia Ducournau on her Horror Cannibal Movie

Julia Ducournau’s cannibal horror film Raw made headlines when an ambulance was called to morning screening at the Toronto Film Fest, where some audience members passed during the intense film.

The French director, who is 33, made a film about a vegetarian veterinary student, Justine (Garance Marillier), who forced into a college hazing ritual that make her crave for flesh meat.

Raw has garnered positive reviews on the festival circuit, which included world premiere at 2017 Cannes Film Fest and showing at Sundance.

Cannibal movie as debut feature?

I was talking to one of my producers about cannibal movies, and I said “You know what, cannibals are always portrayed as a “they.”  When I hear “they” I think of creatures from outer space or zombies. If I tried to make a cannibal movie, I would make it an “I” and “me” movie and try to understand what is happening when someone becomes a cannibal.

All along, Justine is human! She doesn’t kill, and yet she has eaten human flesh, so what does that make her?  I’ve worked around bodies and I’m obsessed with bodies.  My question is: “Where is the humanity in the body? If your body has a rash, what does it say about you? Who is in control?

Protagonist: young female 

In filming bodies and talking about bodies I wanted to form equality in my audience. Everyone has a body that is suffering or is aching or desiring or has needs. Sometimes it can be gross, but that can be endearing. This intimacy of the body is a channel toward equality. The female body is usually boxed or niche, it is sexualized and glamorized but there is no truth there; it is a fantasy for men and women. And you can’t relate to a fantasy. You have puked and peed and have dark rings under your eyes and pores and sweat, and all of this goes beyond gender. When you watch DiCaprio in The Revenant, everyone can relate to how he is suffering in his body.

Focus World

Performance of actress Garance Marillier as a young cannibal?

Directing actors is way closer to choreography and music than to literature or the script. I like to talk about the characters for months with the actors — how they are like, what they like and don’t like.  When I am on set I only need to talk to their bodies. Garance has extremely physical scenes, and I like to talk through the filming so she doesn’t feel alone.

When you work with prosthetics as much as I do–I don’t like CGI that much– you have to talk about psychology. At the beginning, it is always hard for actors to believe that a piece of candy is a real finger, so you have to contextualize more than I would normally. For Garance, the finger is her partner in the scene.

Visual style

I thought it would be interesting to use the scope to treat the body the same way I would treat a landscape. Everyone wants to make wide shots, but I also wanted to fill the screen with skin. It was all about the relationship between the very wide and the very close. For lighting, my references came from Korean cinema. We really need to see the skin — I didn’t want makeup. The light was raw and brutal.

Audiences reaction

It took me five years from the first word to Cannes, so for five years I was just crossing my fingers that one person on the planet would want to see my movie. When I got these reactions, positive or negative, it was overwhelming and hard to decipher. When I was making the movie, I knew it was outside of the box, but I didn’t anticipate such response.