Meet The French Film Director Making Her Audiences Faint

Having grown up with two doctors as parents, French screenwriter and filmmaker Julia Ducournau understood that flesh, like life, is a mess. While the animals in her debut feature RAW, a horror/coming-of-age film, just get on with surviving, the humans are different, craving control and order. Justine, our protagonist and a life-long vegetarian, begins studying at veterinary college. Initially excited, and as green as the grass chomped on by the cows she observes in class, she faces a stark new world of hierarchies, humiliation and hunger. And a lot of blood. Led through this intimidating culture of hazing, by Alexia, her bolshy older sister, she discovers the limitlessness of humanity - her family’s, her friends’ and her own. RAW, much anticipated due to Ducournau’s previous short, Junior, winning the Petit Rail d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, has not only won a London Film Festival award, but has earned a certain reputation after viewers at early screenings fainted or vomited. At times, it's hard to decipher the grander meanings of RAW’s gristle, but it’s a college movie like never seen or done before. Refinery29 spoke to 33-year-old Ducournau, who both wrote and directed, to find out her motivations for this film, and why she left periods out of it.
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Hi Julia. Soon after we meet Justine she’s being hazed. Is hazing a big issue in France?
It’s been illegal in France since 1998, it’s not a big issue in the sense that it happens every five years, there is a problem, but you otherwise never hear about it.
Is it worse now that it’s driven underground?
It always has something to do with humiliation. I consider hazing a way to reproduce a society outside of the world, a bit like in the Lord of the Flies, with its own rules that are incredibly autocratic and cruel and somehow vain also. In the same way some kind of government will treat the individuals that it has power over. For me, there is a more political element to the hazing than just a little column in the paper. It’s something bigger.
Right, where there’s chaos, like at university, people want to impose a structure
For me, [hazing] was a way to show how violence that comes from upstairs generates a form of violence that is more tangible amongst individuals. When a politician steals our money and does not plan on giving it back and we have to pay for it, that is violence, but it almost has no face. But the anger it generates is not without a face, this anger is tangible.
There’s a bikini waxing scene in RAW. Did you want to position things we do or don’t do with our bodies to make us question taboos?
It’s a bit like the hazing, it’s the story of a girl who wants to fit in but doesn’t and she never will because of her nature. Her sister, who represents the hazing community, tells her “If you want to fit in, you’ve got to pull out your hair”. It’s another way to show she’s being pressed into a mould that is not hers, because she doesn’t see the problem with her armpit hair. I got the idea for the waxing at the beauty parlour. I was thinking - how many women in the world must be getting a wax at this moment? I thought it must be a freaking lot of people and that’s funny, I’ve never seen this on screen. I was thinking: why is it that we want to pretend that we were born like that? Because we’re not, and it’s fucking painful! so I would like to get some kind of medal for that, just the recognition, you know?
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Without spoiling too much, RAW contains cannibalism, which made me think, if I were a cannibal, I’d definitely eat my own tampon
Really?
Yeah, it’s free blood!
Yes, it is a free and harmless way…but it’s a bit old now, has it not perished a bit?
Well, did it ever cross your mind to include tampon-eating in RAW?
No, because I did not want the blood in my body to be reduced to menstruation. That’s the case in Carrie, it’s all about menstruating. The blood in RAW is more than this, it’s about identity. My idea is to take the female body outside of its niche and to make it universal through triviality. You could say a period is trivial, but I don’t think men could relate to a girly situation where she has crazy periods. This is something they cannot share with us. However, the hair-pulling, the skin, the sweat, the desire, they can relate to that. I see my feminism as stopping genderising movies and to ensure everyone could identify with the girl.
The film contains a scene of shaming via camera, has this sort of shaming has become part of women’s lives?
I’ve read terrible things about it. As a filmmaker I have to question my relationship with image all the time, I have a deep feeling of responsibility towards images that I take. But unfortunately anyone can take an image of whoever they want without asking for copyright and put it on social media without even asking the person. It’s perfectly acceptable and the problem is that: not only do we not have responsibility towards image anymore, but that it’s always always the women who suffer from it. It’s just a tool to shame women and not guys. There was a video of a girl who was performing a sexual act on a guy and she got shamed like crazy it went viral. The guy whose genitals were shown was not.
Because she’d presumably sacrificed part of herself to be part of that?
She’s tainted, and this is why it was very important for me to talk about the sexuality in young women nowadays. It’s like we’re in the Middle Ages. If a woman wants to come, she wants to climax, she has a body that is desiring and she’s not ashamed of it - we’re seen like we’re fucking witches. It’s more than witches, it’s worse, it’s whores - the word is whores. And the damage it does…what happened to that poor girl not only revulsed me but breaks my heart. My characters are in their early 20s and of course nowadays any time something a bit eventful happens, everyone films it and I had to show that. It’s a reality today – this is where we’ve come to with image and the image of women.
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