In this first entry our new series that looks at the first non-Hollywood productions you encountered or the ones that changed your perspective on cinema and what it could be, Daniel explores the personal significance of French horror Raw (2016).
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when my interest in film and cinema as an artistic medium really became something tangible; transitioning away from a sense of general enjoyment into a much more impassioned and attentive hobby. The possibility of exploring complex themes, ideas and realities that don’t just draw from our own world but form a reflection of it instigated my love for films in a way that I couldn’t have predicted, but would never think of looking back on.
Even with a burgeoning interest in films, the world of foreign cinema always felt intimidating and borderline esoteric. What film should I start with? Is there a particular period or style that I should explore? Maybe I should choose a single country and start there?
Inexplicably, I became aware of a film called Raw, the directorial debut from French auteur Julia Docournau. I wasn’t so much aware of any elements of the plot than I was aware of the fact that members of the audience at the film’s premiere at the Cannes film festival had supposedly vomited, left the theatre, or both during the same screening. Drawn in by perverse temptation and genuine curiosity, I found myself obsessed after incessantly rewatching the film’s trailer and a deranged sense of amazement at the prospect of an arthouse cannibal coming-of-age film.
“I was aware of the fact that members of the audience at the film’s premiere at the Cannes film festival had supposedly vomited, left the theatre, or both during the same screening…”
While it feels silly to describe my first experience with Raw as groundbreaking, ultimately, it was the film that cemented my love for cinema and opened my eyes to a world beyond the confines of hollywood blockbusters, and even independent english language films (sorry A24). Following the character of Justine as she navigates her first year of veterinary school, the film paints a vivid and visceral portrait of coming of age, battling conformity, sexual exploration and familial bonds. Examined through Docournau’s own audacious voice, Raw is punctuated with equal parts astute observation and outlandish and stylish gore. It is a film of immensely impressive focus and a strikingly singular vision; not once does it feel like Docournau sacrifices thematic exploration for the sake of the film’s shocking imagery and stomach-churning visuals. The slow, measured build-ups synchronise with Jim Williams’ intense crescendos, perfectly in-tune and naturalistic.
Meanwhile, it is Garance Marillier’s performance that allows the film to cover so much of the emotional ground that it does. Docournau weaves her own talents around that of Marillier centering her at each moment of the film and allowing each moment of triumph, anguish, pain and realisation to take place through the lens of Justine’s character.
“Allowing each moment of triumph, anguish, pain and realisation to take place through the lens of Justine’s character…”
Raw is an incredibly difficult film to talk about. Alluding to the brazen style of film-making that Julia Docournau is able to infuse it with, it is hard to do justice to the film and its ability to balance bloody viscera with contemplative sensitivity without simply watching it yourself. For some, it might ultimately turn them away from watching anything similar again, but it managed to imbue in me a passion for foreign film and more specifically a strong connection to the unique sensitivity of French female voices in cinema.
Without this film, I might never have discovered the likes of Céline Sciamma or Claire Denis – now some of my favourite film-makers – or have had the confidence to venture into the vast world of foregin films. However, whether or not I would have stumbled upon it another way or through a different film, several years on, Raw still remains one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had with a film. And it remains one of my all time favourites and for that reason alone, the mesmerising and unforgettable impression it leaves behind is something I would recommend to anyone.