A can­ni­bal movie that will make you relish ev­ery sticky, il­licit bite

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FILM - By RE­BECCA HAWKES

Di­rec­tor: Ju­lia Du­cour­nau. Cast: Garance Mar­il­lier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Naït Oufella. 18 cert, 99 mins.

Raw, the de­but fea­ture film of French di­rec­tor Ju­lia Du­cour­nau, is both a can­ni­bal hor­ror movie and a com­ing-of-age movie, one in which the sex­ual awak­en­ing of its young pro­tag­o­nist Jus­tine (Garance Mar­il­lier) sits along­side the birth of a more de­struc­tive, if sim­i­larly all­con­sum­ing kind of hunger.

The film opens as the teenager, brought up in a veg­e­tar­ian fam­ily, heads off to col­lege for the first time. Her des­ti­na­tion — a ve­teri­nary school, alma mater of both her par­ents and the cur­rent home of her older sis­ter Alexa (Ella Rumpf ), a se­nior stu­dent — is a Franken­stein’s lab­o­ra­tory of hor­rors: think float­ing, de­tached or­gans and drugged farm an­i­mals, hoisted aloft while in rest­less slum­ber.

Jus­tine’s ca­reer path may have been mo­ti­vated by a de­sire to help an­i­mals: early on, she says, with evan­gel­i­cal se­ri­ous­ness, that she sees no dif­fer­ence be­tween “a raped woman” and a “raped mon­key”. But the prac­ti­cal cal­lous­ness of her fel­low stu­dents, and the way in which an­i­mal flesh is ca­su­ally re­duced to meat, be­lies the hu­man­ity of their cho­sen pro­fes­sion. You can’t be­come a vet, the film sug­gests, with­out get­ting your hands bloody and, as Jus­tine dis­cov­ers dur­ing a grim haz­ing rit­ual, the rest of you too.

Our main char­ac­ter’s heady, queasy in­tro­duc­tion to stu­dent life is por­trayed in evoca­tive, oddly nos­tal­gic de­tail: she en­dures bul­ly­ing from older stu­dents, who sub­ject the firstyear stu­dents to a pro­longed mil­i­tary-style ini­ti­a­tion, and tries to “lose her­self ” at he­do­nis­tic par­ties.

Cru­cially, though, the film never sug­gests that Jus­tine’s flesh-eat­ing an­tics are a di­rect re­sult of her bur­geon­ing sex­u­al­ity. Nor does it present her can­ni­bal­ism as a clumsy metaphor for her other “car­nal” de­sires. In­stead, its power — its shud­der­ing, re­lent­less in­ten­sity — lies in the way it makes you vi­car­i­ously feel both her dual hungers, and sur­rep­ti­tiously relish ev­ery sticky, il­licit bite.

When she dances in front of a mir­ror, newly awake to her own de­sir­abil­ity and her own sense of sex­ual de­sire, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to iden­tify, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously cring­ing at the teenage awk­ward­ness of the whole thing. And as, in the wake of that cruel ini­ti­a­tion, she starts to ex­pe­ri­ence a new­found hunger for un­cooked meat, there’s an in­tox­i­cat­ing en­ergy to her culi­nary ex­plo­rations, cou­pled with a darkly funny ten­sion. There have been re­ports of Raw in­duc­ing faint­ing in early au­di­ences, but, truth be told, you’ ll more likely spend less time look­ing away in re­vul­sion than you will ner­vously gig­gling, as your stom­ach knots with sus­pense.

Bod­ies, in this film, are never far away: there’s al­ways just a lit­tle too much skin on screen. But, along­side the slow eroti­cism, Du­cour­nau also shows a keen sense of just how warped our re­la­tion­ships with our own phys­i­cal selves have be­come.

Tellingly, Jus­tine’s first foray into can­ni­bal­ism comes af­ter a graphic bikini-wax­ing scene that’ ll make you wince. Bit­ing into an­other hu­man be­ing is a big no no, yet this sort of eye-wa­ter­ing beauty rit­ual is os­ten­si­bly “nor­mal”. Is it any won­der, the film clev­erly im­plies, that Jus­tine — and we, her cap­tive au­di­ence — be­comes a lit­tle con­fused?

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