Interview With RAW Director Julia Ducournau

Today sees the release of the much-acclaimed RAW into cinemas.  We managed to grab some time with the film’s director, the hugely talented Julia Ducournau.

Raw Director

LHS: Hey Julia!  Just as you were coming in, we were discussing how this is a very misrepresented film, with stories emanating of people fainting throughout.  But its actually quite a sweet coming of age film with cannibal aspects! Is it frustrating to see this?

JD: Yes! But there is nothing I can do about it. I’m kind of a control freak, so if there are things that I cant handle, I just stop thinking about it as they’re out of my control!

But yes, there is something of an ‘urban legend’ that’s built up around my movie since the Toronto Film Festival, which I personally saw snowballing on the internet.  I thought “What the hell are they talking about!?!”  It was like they weren’t talking about my movie anymore.  They were talking about another movie that doesn’t exist. Or maybe it does and is a mix of other films… but it’s certainly not mine!

It doesn’t do justice to what I’ve done.  I love mixing genres, and balancing everything that I do. I don’t like doing gratuitous violence as it bores me to death, and I think it’s kind of easy to play with that as a director. So the fact that my movie got compared to torture porn really doesn’t do justice to what I’ve done.

And the thing that makes me really sad is that now some people are going to be too scared to see the film, when they could have handled it very well – which is a bit of a shame!

LHS: What inspired you to make RAW?

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JD: Many things! This wasn’t the case of taking an image and building things around it.  That happens sometimes – my next film in fact is like this.  But this one was more like a reflection I’ve had for many years around a figure of the monster, and the metamorphosis of bodies.

I was talking to my producer a long time ago about cannibals, and I said to him that it was funny that cannibalism is the only taboo in movies that’s treated like it doesn’t exist. Murders and incest are always treated like the perpetrators are human beings, and you never doubt whether they exist or not because you believe that there are psychopaths on the planet.

But cannibals are always treated like a group of anonymous beings have come to attack our world, like from outer space, or they’re zombies perhaps. Especially in the 70’s! But I guess most cannibal movies were made in the 70’s…

I said to him that it’s funny that cannibals are treated like a chimera or something, and that if I were to make a cannibal movie, I would replace the collective “they” with “I”. I would make something that was very realistic, that would focus on someone discouraging their urges and cravings.  And what does that make her? Is she a monster? Is she now like the monsters we saw in the 70’s that had three tentacles? She stays in humanity. But how does it change her? What does it say about her? And that’s what interests me.

What’s more, this almost makes the ‘monster’ more human than some of the people that are calling her a monster. And this is what happens in this movie. She doesn’t actually hurt anyone. She actually turns her disease against herself. But you could say that the ‘hazers’ are the real monsters, as they humiliate people. So it’s really about something of a ‘positive monstrosity’, and how its better not to be part of that world!

LHS: Was any of RAW autobiographical? Perhaps in the relationship with your family, or your time at university?

JD: No, but I do think that every movie is autobiographical — but not in the sense where it’s related to an existing relationship or situation.

I find myself in every character that I write. There’s a lot of me in the older sister Alexia, there’s a lot of me in their father, and of course in Justine. I think that as a screenwriter, even if I write a main character that’s a giant octopus with vampire teeth, I’m going to have to find an entry point for that person, and am going to have to put a lot of me into it!  So this is how it’s not autobiographical, but is in someway!

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LHS: Something I really liked in the script was the injections of dark comedy. Was it quite difficult to keep the tone consistent for the whole film?

JD: It’s very organic, actually. Hitchcock used to say that there is no suspense without laughter, and I agree with that. But I don’t play with suspense. I play with genre and I play with disturbance. So for me let’s say that there’s no disturbance without laughter!

I personally need to laugh with a character and not at a character in order to identify with them as a person. I think laughter creates a very strong bond between the audience and the character. This bond is almost organic as well, as laughter is a physical reaction, and I think it creates something that is intimately close.

Also, laughter is something that’s going to help you ‘favourise’ the eruption of the genre. You don’t get used to it and you don’t get desensitized to it. For example, if you put a comedy scene after a traumatic scene, you’re going to use it to relieve  the audience of the trauma that they have just seen.

If you place it before the trauma however, you can put the audience in a ‘safe area’, and that’s where you can get them! You can create this chill, something that they weren’t expecting — or even better, uneasiness! It’s like a rollercoaster, you can build someone up with laughter and then BAM!

I do believe that there is no laughter without drama. Drama gives depth and perspective, and I believe that with the genres that I use, this mixes itself very naturally. I think I see life a little like this too. Maybe it’s not for other people, but for me it’s very natural.

LHS: In terms of the ‘coming of age’ aspect, what were you trying to convey about growing up, and the transition from childhood to adulthood?

JD: The first thing is that for me, the ‘coming of age’ can occur at any age. My definition is that it’s a moment in your life where you change physically and in your head. For example, your first pregnancy as a woman, or losing your first hair as a man, or the menopause, and so on.  Basically, it can be anything that implies a change from the person you were – a turning point in the quest that is fucking life!

The thing that interests me with this age, and the reason I chose cannibalism, is that it’s the first time the character (who is 16) has discovered sexuality, and also the first time that she’s confronted with the sense that you have to ‘belong’. Usually you’re born into a family with two loving parents, and with that you automatically do belong somewhere. But when you’re ‘out there’ on your own, you feel like you have to belong somewhere else – its something that is required.

I don’t actually believe in belonging, I find it incredibly claustrophobic. This is why I wrote this story of a girl who wants to belong, but discovers something insider her that rejects the possibility of that. And that’s maybe for the best with this ‘positive monstrosity’.  So I think that’s why I chose this particular time of life.

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LHS: When I watched RAW, I felt that some of the interactions between characters and some of the locations really reminded me of ‘Blue Is The Warmest Colour’, which of course is again about a girl who wants to belong, but realises that something insider her is different. Is that the first time you’ve heard that comparison?

JD: Yes actually! But now I hear it, I agree that there are some similar themes.  [laughs] Perhaps every single movie on the planet is talking about someone who wants to belong but doesn’t! I’m going to sleep on that tonight…

LHS: RAW’s soundtrack is amazing, and almost nauseating – in a good way! What gave you the ideas for the score, or was that organ-based sound something you wanted from the start?

JD: Actually no. I chose my composer, Jim Williams, whose work I had discovered in Ben Wheatley’s movies. When you first start putting together a movie, you put references in for the score, in order to get a sense of what you want. This is to help the composer. And my notes were actually his music, from Ben Wheatley’s movies! So when he came on board and saw all of that, he knew I really wanted him!

And before we get to the organ — because that came after a lot of work! — I’ll tell you about why I chose Jim. He’s an amazing musician, and has a very strong sense of building themes. I think that’s super cool because film soundtracks are supposed to be all old school these days, and I miss them! I’ve grown up watching films from the 40’s & 50’s, and they were made with themes that carried the journey of the characters. They told you whether it was a happy sequence or a sad sequence, and it played a bit part in how you identified with the characters.  So that’s why I really wanted a theme myself, and why I got in touch with Jim!

And the thing with the organ… We knew that we wanted to use acoustic guitar at the beginning of the film, as I wanted it to be sort of western-y as she was discovering a ‘new world’.  It seemed pretty dry and simple, and then the acoustic was going to morph into electric guitar to be a bit rougher as the film came to a head.

Then, when it came to the ‘finger’ scene, I told him that I wanted the theme to morph again into something that would bring a sense of fate, almost like she was doomed. That was how he came up with the idea of keeping the theme but adding the organ over the electric guitar, which is very smart as the organ is the instrument of church! So what better way to point at the ‘sin’ than by using an organ.

And then, where Jim doubled his genius is that in the football scene, where she takes full possession of her desires and her cravings, he takes exactly the same theme but replaces the organ with a harpsichord. This is interesting as it’s a baroque instrument which isn’t religious at all – its very pagan – which is great as shes starting to really feel within herself for the first time.  And that’s why I felt to go from a sense of ‘shes doomed’ to a sense of freedom – like a “fuck you! I’m going to go for it!” – was really smart!

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LHS: I really enjoyed the chemistry between Alexia and Justine.  How hard was it to find two actors that worked together so well?

JD: Well, I have worked with Garance Marillier for a long time, and the part was actually written for her. For the role of Alexa, yes it took me a long time to find the right person. I saw a lot of actors, and I never found that androgynous, ‘warrior’ feel that I needed.

Then I saw this swiss movie where Ella Rumpf played a skinhead, and she blew my mind. So we got her to Paris and gave her her lines, and this is where I got lucky…  In real life Garance is the youngest in her family, and Ella is the oldest. And they have exactly the same age difference as Justine and Alexia! And the moment Ella entered the room, I saw that it was going to be simple, and we really believed that these two are sisters. It was really natural!

RAW is released in cinemas on Friday, 7th April.

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