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Creating Raw
Julia Ducournau's debut feature RAW premiered to critical acclaim at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival; only a few months later it became the talk of the Toronto Film Festival. The story of a young woman coming to terms with her cannibalistic desires, RAW shocked festival audiences with its provocative imagery. Yet while RAW seemingly appeared out of nowhere to generate an auspicious debut in the terrain of art cinema, the film had been stirring in Ducournau for some time. A short film, JUNIOR, from which RAW grew (and which also starred Garance Marillier, the lead in RAW), played Cannes in 2011. As with RAW, JUNIOR addresses themes of young womanhood, depicting an adolescent girl making her way through puberty.

As she formulated the idea for RAW, Ducournau had a particular need in mind: the desire to challenge herself as a storyteller. "Writing a screenplay is a very difficult process, and it's important for me to make it difficult for myself," Ducournau explained. "I wanted to create a character who would become, in the middle of the story, what people might call a monster, even though the audience would have given their empathy to this character since the beginning. I wanted to separate the audience's morality from this character, yet keep their empathy with her, by forcing the audience to place themselves in her shoes. The film truly grew out of this challenge."

As Ducournau constructed her monstrous protagonist, she soon settled on cannibalism as the source of that monstrosity. "I asked myself, what behaviors would the audience reject instantly? Murder, but murder is in so many movies that we're kind of desensitized to it. Then I thought about incest, but that, I decided, was too dark for me. But cannibalism - cannibalism made sense to me because my work revolves around the body, I'm very obsessed with bodies, what goes inside the body, what comes out."

Cannibalism was a fitting choice for RAW, as the film's protagonist is Justine (Garance Marillier), a teenage girl entering veterinary school; Justine is being exposed to the bodies of animals while simultaneously having new experiences with her own body - namely, sex and alcohol. While there are any number of ways to explain the film, Ducournau has resisted providing any specific interpretation, preferring the film's emotional impact to an intellectual one. "I know what cannibalism means for me in the movie, I know what emotions I wanted to convey by choosing it, but I feel that the relationship of the audience to my movie is mostly organic and I want them to feel something in the body before they get to analyze it with their mind. I believe that if people are touched, if they gag or laugh nervously or close their eyes, it means that it touched something in them that is very personal and intimate. The body is the door to the mind. First you feel the reaction, then you wonder why you felt this reaction. I like the fact that this process generates questions about ourselves, first you feel something and then you wonder why."

However, Ducournau did allude, to some degree, as to what thematic concerns she was interested in touching upon. "But of course, for Justine, cannibalism is a journey akin to the journey of becoming an adult. This is definitely a coming of age story. We see her at the school, being subjected to hazing, feeling like she clearly does not belong, and so first I wanted the cannibalism to be some kind of rebellion against the establishment she is placed within. I wanted to make a movie that felt like it could not be put in a box since my character could not be put in a box, she's just trying to find herself and test her surroundings outside of that box."

Much has been made of the influence of David Cronenberg's cinema of body horror in RAW, an influence that Ducournau readily acknowledges. She reconciled the comparison between what she was attempting and what Cronenberg had achieved as she prepared the film. "I've seen all of his movies and I've digested them all in my own way - I've analyzed why I am so touched by his films. I do feel a connection to the way he shows death and the way he shows the body. The way that he shows the body, it is very direct, as if we are looking directly at our own human condition. He's very frontal, he's not bullshitting. He's showing us the inevitability of the human body's march toward decay and death. My parents are doctors, so this frontal view mortality is something that I've heard my whole life."

For casting her pivotal protagonist, Justine, who is in every scene in the film, Ducournau turned to Marillier, whom she'd worked with before. Ducornau felt intuitively aware of the Marillier's strength as a performer. "Garance was the main actress of my first work, six years ago, and she hadn't done anything before that. It was her first time. It was kind of my first time as well because it was my first short outside of film school, so we both had a lot to prove at that moment. She's an excellent actress and that was apparent even when she was 12. It's innate in her. And the fact that we kind of started together, it created a bond between us. After my short, she acted in my TV movie. So RAW is the third time we worked together, and you can definitely feel from one movie to another that we get to know each other better and that it's easier and easier to go deeper in the emotions. We trust each other very much and it's a different, rare bond, that we have."

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