In case you have lost any interest in re-reading the established film theory, I would highly recommend you start to get to know a new insubordinate player in the game – Julia Ducournau. Having gained spotlight just recently, this adamant and outspoken French director has already taken one of the most progressive steps in the recent film history. One of the strongest messages of her debut feature Raw is a complete refusal to accept and promulgate stale and formulaic representations of young women’s sexuality which, by the way, has already started to take the world by storm. And, to be fair, she’s completely right – not sure if the perpetual romantic images of a blooming flower, silky sheets and heart-patterned underwear can continue doing the trick any longer.
There is no doubt that for women discovering and taking control of their sexuality is one of the most important events in their lives, yet somehow this moment got taken out of its human context and transplanted onto some sacred, metaphorical plane, making women vulnerable and muted to the rush of their animalistic desires.
At last people like Julia Ducournau are ready to open a new chapter and say that losing your virginity is a moment when woman is becomes fulfilled in her own skin, and finally a female orgasm, hidden under the sheets until now, will be re-introduced to its original source – a craving female body.
We encounter the protagonist Justine as a timid teenager, prudish and set in her own stringent ways, unable to let loose. She feels uncomfortable joining the tireless party crowd of the college freshers and has mentally reconciled with a self-inflicted status of an outsider together with her gay roommate Adrien.
Discovering the demonic and insatiable desire for human flesh becomes a moment where she finally acknowledges the power and volume of her desires and her sexuality. Justine’s primal instincts become a catalyst for her self-awakening; she feels empowered by the potency of sexual cravings and ready to accept her own body that is yearning for more sensations.
In one of the film’s key scenes (accompanied by one fiery feminist anthem), Justine is dancing in front of the mirror, admiring her reflection. It almost seems like she is devouring her own image and experiencing a feeling of ecstasy by realising her full strength. The camera is located just behind her, giving an impression that she is ‘eating’ her reflection, and the audience. Such sequence in so iconic in a way that there is not event a hint of fragility or confusion in Justine’s actions. Julia Ducournau has shifted common mistreatment of female sexual awakening into the realm of empirical power and control.
What is particularly brilliant about Raw is that it takes the object of a nude body as a shrine, stripping it down to its bare minimums and worshipping it for its triviality, covering it in blood, hair, sweat and tears. Ducournau refuses to embellish around any cemented metaphors, and delivers a completely fresh and unparalleled view on how it feels to feed the primal instincts of the sexual urge.
Justine pukes, pees on the street, shaves her genital area and chooses not to shave her legs and armpits. What Raw essentially does is de-sexualises its characters, strips of any possible elements of objectified fantasies – we are all human after all, says Ducournau, and there is absolutely no point in concealing everything that is so generously donated to us by mother nature.
The director is aggressively unapologetic: for her a body is something that should not be sexualised or glamorised for aesthetic purposes. This is exactly why the film is so visceral – the ultimate aim of Raw is to make people feel the same impulses as human body does. It gains it weight from the heaviness of all the sensations that it shamelessly generates throughout. It is not surprising that many people experience great discomfort from Raw’s explicit body horror.
As they say, the key is in the name. Raw is a so fresh and so bold in the way it treats so many complicated matters completely forgotten by the filmmakers who are just so eager to hide their film’s meaning under fancy metaphor-generating images. It takes so much time and dedication to make such an individualistic film, and Julia Ducournau is just so great in how fearless she to establish her own puissant status quo already with her debut feature. Do not even attempt to place Raw under any category – the film is so original, genre-bending, you might even get a headache trying to figure out the ‘why’s and the ‘where’s.
The Final Word: a beautifully rare breed of original cinema
Raw comes to UK cinemas, Digital Download and VOD 7th April.