Something in the blood
Directed by: Julia Ducournau
Written by: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
Swift shot: There’s something distinct about European films, a kind of realization that anything can happen, and it’s a freedom of expression that American audiences often don’t appreciate. From the opening scene to the film’s horrifying conclusion, you’re on alert that anything is possible in Raw. It’s a disturbing coming of age story about two sisters accepting their dominant role in the food chain.
Justine (Marillier) is a nebbish waif of a girl, she’s incredibly intelligent but lacks street smarts. Her seasoned sister, Alexia (Rumpf) is eager to introduce Justine to the way things are done at the local veterinarian academy. Apparently hazing is an all-too accepted practice at this campus. Harsh stuff, really, for the “rookies” . . . according to the subtitles. (I am sure the actual word is much worse in translation). The rookies are subjected to severe humiliation from the very first night, and Alexia assures Justine that even their parents, graduates of the academy, endured the same shit.
But, there’s one thing you need to understand about Justine, she’s a vegetarian, her mother has taken extreme measures to see to it that her youngest daughter’s lips have never so much as touched meat. So, when Justine is forced to eat raw rabbit kidneys as part of her hazing, Alexia again tells her to just do it and not be such a wuss, especially not in front of the others. That’s where Raw starts to really get, well, raw. Justine breaks out in terrible hives and has to see the nurse who basically chastises her for being dumb enough to allow herself to be coerced into something clearly against her nature.
As the film progresses Justine finds herself passionately attracted to her gay roommate, Adrien (Oufella). He does try to help her, more or less, but he’s not attracted to her and his limits on helping out a roomie are clear. Meanwhile Justine is not near as loyal to Adrien as she knows she should be, as a question of integrity forces her to betray him.
Alexia gets more and more frustrated with Justine’s naivety and finally pushes Justine to a point of no return. When everything is revealed, the sisters discover they share another passion that, while predictable, is handled so well by Director Ducournau that it still manages to shock you. And that’s my main take away from Raw, it was difficult to watch for the sheer fact that at any given moment your “I can’t unsee that” alarm is always on. Fans of Aronofsky or von Trier know what I mean here, it’s just a struggle to sit through a film like this without wondering if there’s some scar tissue on your soul afterwards.
The shots are magnificent and vibrantly alive in Raw, the music and tone match perfectly, and what you end up with is a kind of living piece of disgusting, irreverent art that you experience with all your senses. While I thought Raw was going to be an attack on carnivores, like myself, it unfolds more like a macabre short story that develops into something dark and wonderful.
If you are looking for a good European film to sink your teeth into, you can’t go wrong with Raw.