Director Julia Ducournau Writer Julia Ducournau Stars Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss, Bouli Lanners, Marion Vernoux.
Jean-Louis Sbille as the professor Rating 18. Duration 1h 39m Genres Drama, Horror.
Probing the flesh
Raw is War in tooth and claw. Red is cinemas greatest asset in showing in glorious technicolor our raw emotions that inhabit our conscious. From the premise that within us is a primordial guilt and we seek revenge for the ills of our ancient past back to the dawn of existence we have been fascinated with the bloodlust of others and sometimes ourselves. The driven kind features heavily and their appetite is satiated in a campus of post-revolutionary Europe. In a University campus that of L’Universite de Liege, filmed over one summer, writer, Director, Julia Ducournau, in her debut feature film sees humans in a structure of hierarchy. Garance Marillier playing Justine is dropped of by her affluent parents in a sprawling University campus. They are past students of the same place and are perhaps aware of what lies ahead in more senses than we are initially lead to believe. I couldn’t help thinking if they were in part authors or this rite of passage, being from the output from ’68, for their virginal daughter. In a horrific incestuousness leading all back to the beginning. Already at the University is sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) a year ahead.
Journey to self
At the opening frames which we go back to later there is a similar opening to many films. A open large perspective of a rural connection of a tree lined road seen anywhere in Europe. There occurs an unexplained event. Cut to the car wth the dog lapping the cheeks of the open eyed Justine whose move from childhood to adulthood is officially stamped. No longer at home she is on an adventure called life. This is an enclosed tale of rule making and conformity layered with the very present hormonal discharges of Justines sexuality. Into this is added the self image and her beliefs which are more or less intact. As a vegetarian she is setting herself out as having a love of animals which is taken to the point of her enrollment and the family belonging to an ethic of helping all creatures on this earth.
In this environment it is easy to see the disgust of meat eating and it is but not questioned here, a method of exploring whether we are indeed carnivores or as the ancient history will tell us after the ‘original’ sin we became sinful in killing and eating animals. The proteins of other sources being accommodated only by locational advantage. The China Study is a book which shows us how to remove meat as a protein source and also shows us how location, China can support a food structure in balance while others hunt and fish plainly because they have an abundance of wild animals, rivers, forests in which flight is not sufficient to save birds, nor speed a reason to escape an arrow. The Masai will eat from nomadic cattle by slicing off a piece of hind while they walk, covering the wound with mud and eating it raw. Their choice is confined to an existence without much plant growth. So how is it God our creator has it in mind meat is a legitimate source of our diet.
Justine is confronted by the meat eating fraternity without the family protection. As a set up we see the family enroute at a roadside cafeteria and out of her ‘veggie’ choice – her parents have moved onto meat eating – probably by obliging the instincts to masticate on flesh cooked into unchained protein as a demonstration of the common predication for eating meat. In the school of Veterinary Studies there is a ritual and it is a basic condensing of human rules and conformity writ large. In it the Upper year students in the Dead of Night ambush the entire intake and involve them in a series of initiation subjections which are both a release and an imprisonment. Mindsare pliable and Alex, Justines sister is already into the camp of the meat eater. This is despite her own beliefs and she suppresses what Justine still holds as a basic right to decide what she puts inside her body.
The initiation I won’t describe as too many writers on this film have drawn out all the little details which make it a full on exploration of human instincts. First time Director at 33 when she made it (at some critics take a youthful age apparently though it is not an age thing, directing chops!) is giving this story an arch violently expressive with some tremendous scenes setting out with accomplished subtlety at times – in the Student clinic for instance there is a great piece of observational writing, then there is the location itself with its optimistic, bunker like, confrontational raw materials of architecture, stubborn forms plain and as the film afore mentioned – ‘What you see is what you get’. Julia Ducournau has this locked down into Form follows function in excruciating bodily functional detail. In Train to Busan which is a brilliant zombie movie from a South Korea from last year I took it on to seek more references to the human condition which explored along very similar lines what were its driving forces. I found it to be the backward launch of the human, back through their mothers, birth a journey to ancient loss. That read is found by putting into the top right – search box – Train to Busan. http://wp.me/p2R05n-Hh
There are scenes which see Justines sexuality spawn a million seeds. The male leads in the film are similarly stuck by the new circumstances they find themselves in and their preconceptions are not so much challenged as replaced by alternatives. Love stories, strange as it may seem develop. Within this – it is not – mash up – there are several failed relationships and new ones. All concerned with orgasm lust which draws into the equation love and ritualized belongin, hurt and betrayal. This is another strand not obvious at first but it’s very much there. From what I’ve so far implied and set out strands of story direction I’ve gotten onboard with the liking community for this film. At times it will irritate the chops off you, make you cringe at the banality of some use of others tried and rested cinema scoping – the entry frames are so often followed it is tedious to see them range into view again. I won’t name them but I do have favorites of this intro and they are totally memorable putting this so far below in the lower deck it’s below the plimsol line. Annoying. There are other beautiful scenes held flowingly with one or two faults, camera hungry playacting, like in the first dance/techno sequence. The music is by Williams, (son of John?) and it once becomes too much as it is used to ratchet up a particular moment. It could have blurred out sound or disfunctional sound but it chose the conformity.
Progression towards ….
The story develops over one year at University and takes on a form utilizing the group without elder supervision other than a few Professorial types who are strangely not equipped or bothered to set anything other than experiments and pick up on grammatical error while also giving Justine further concerns about her outstanding alacrity, skills, understanding of veterinary techniques. Unlike her fellow rookies who begin to detest her or at least some of them. Alex and Justine become strongly connected and share similar demons. They get into extreme bother and trouble, inviting the entire college to come down on them in their interactions with them. It keeps ramping up in its violence and portray of the communal internalization while setting out no answers or analysis of the behavior. Critics so far have placed it in boxes to suit their view and none inclauding myself were able to fix it in a frame of mutual understanding.
Julia Ducournau has composed an odyssey through a young woman’s journey from childhood to adult and survival. She has used a very able crew and set of young actors who fail nowhere in convincing us of the, beyond recognition, behaviors they portray while putting more than many young actors should in order to be faithful to the task. The experience must itself been ground breaking on the minds of these young people and Julia Ducournau has probably learnt through it of the many potential pitfalls and erroneous steps, some life changing that enter people’s lives. The ground breaking element nearly stretches it out to become a genre free film though it is not long enough or dig into the medical, psychological straits of the human pathway. It is gloriously rich in detail, too much in many people’s minds and plays the willfulness and inevitable harm inflicted mentally on the sisters as in faith. Julia Ducournau holds the characters hands throughout without being exploitative. It crosses many lines but being Cinema it’s not a dilemma for anyone. Of course there is revulsion and sickening components but that’s Cinema story telling unleashed with a courageously minded group.
27 April 2017
On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 28 April 2017 and on general release.