Raw (2016) – Julia’s fascination with Human body and Cannibalism
“Are you your body or is your body you? ”
This is the central philosophy of French filmmaker Julia Ducournau who happens to be the second woman to win Palme d’Or in the history of Cannes film Festival. Julia is the kind of filmmaker who treats her filmography as a continuum rather than treating them as different movies, she considers herself sentimental in that way. And the central continuing factor in her filmography is the exploration of the human body- the desire, it’s weirdness and an urge to break the stereotypes.
Our bodies are as imperfect and unique as us. But we live in a time where there are sanitized ideal body types created by the market forces which keep reminding us to achieve it and always makes us feel poor about our own bodies. Obese, Skinny or Paunchy are now inferior to Ripped, Broad chested or Size Zero body types. Even though there are different body types that were trending throughout history, we are going through a phase where those who don’t fit the current pattern could be seen as an aberration. We are so much exposed to ideal bodies through the flux of various mass media and cinema being the one ‘over the top’. Julia, through her films are not talking about the body types per se, but trying to normalize the weirdness associated with it that we hesitate to include in our day to day conversations.
Our body is a very complex system that does far too sophisticated activities every second where we don’t see any of it but what’s outside it- the skin. We hesitate to talk about our bodies to even our close friends. We are a moving furnace that keeps consuming organic matter and keeps on emitting solid, liquid and gas. Can you imagine a day waking up with a forehead leaking with sticky puss and you don’t know what the fuck is happening with it ? It’s obvious that we won’t be showing ourselves up at our workplace unless we figure it out. No matter what number of paydays it takes, we would be rock solid to not show ourselves to the world until it goes back to how it was.
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Julia is one fine soul who’s interested in showing the extremeness of our own weird bodies. If you have watched her short film Junior, you will notice that she’s interested in showcasing the bizarreness of the human body. The short was about a not-so-beautiful, underconfident tomboy who develops a sticky fluid that eventually leads to the withering of her skin. Julia juxtaposes the peeling skin with the confidence of the girl and her appearance both literally and metaphorically that she sheds her skin like a snake and evolves into a new person. She is showing how the kid transforms into a girl, finding her femininity by placing something at stake.
Raw (2016), intelligently set in the backdrop of a vet school, explores the desires of women’s bodies. Throughout the history of movies, women’s desire is shown as a negative force. Something that deviates the hero’s goal, seduction associated with evil forces, a vamp like figure or something that ultimately leads to tragedy and destruction. Women are always shown as something to be desired but not to have desires. Julia takes us all the way to the extremes of desires by consuming the flesh as raw as it is. Here the object for female desire is raw human flesh and she’s not presented as a vamp but the girl next door struggling to find her place in her new grad school.
Julia places the spectator in the shoes of Justine and constantly provokes us to empathize with her desire to consume flesh. She unapologetically showcases the 16 year old protagonist, exploring the depths of all her repressed primal instincts. A big fan of horror films herself, Julia attempts the tropes of body horror in the lines of films of Cronenberg. We get to see an aesthetics where vibrant colors and shadows add to the goriness of the vet school. The images of a ketamine induced horse hanged upside down locked with braces, a shot of one of the main characters taking out poop from a horse by almost putting herself inside it, mortuary like ambience of the labs and classrooms gives a sense of a horror mansion and at times a butcher house like that in On body and Soul (2017). Here the femininity of Julia’s protagonist takes next step from that in Junior, showing the continuum of her films.
As Laura Mulvey rightly put in her phenomenal essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975), ‘ traditional narrative cinema look at the woman on the screen as an erotic object, she is also objectified by the gaze of other screen characters, particularly that of the leading man’. Julia not only disrupts this convention but extends the authority of Female Characters to something as horrifying as Cannibals. Even though she plays with the tropes of body horror, she goes an extra mile to talk about the desire of women by creating an atmosphere of scare.
Cannibalism, like the desire of women, is something which is mostly portrayed as negative in cinema. From Greek Mythology to modern day Pop culture, Cannibalism manifests in various forms from a horror subgenre to survival tropes of a post famine society . When The Silence of the Lambs (1991) portrayed the most terrifying Psychopath we have ever seen, Naan Kadavul (2009) showed cannibalism as an act of an Aghori Saint that represents divinity. Julia wants the audience to feel what a Cannibal is feeling which is quite ambitious and novel to experiment in cinema.
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Certain isolated Tribes practicing Cannibalism is one thing, but when someone in a modern society practices the same, it creates chaos. When someone like Issei Sagawa, who murdered an innocent woman and spent three days eating her flesh in his apartment is leading a normal life using the loopholes in law, normalizing cannibalism could be debatable. Julia’s fascination towards body and flesh stems from her childhood, both her parents being doctors- a dermatologist and a gynecologist. In times when most of us are least confident about our own bodies, Julia pushes the boundaries of both the idea of desire and what is supposed to be perceived as normal.
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