It’s taken me a little while to come around to Julia Ducournau’s Raw.
Some SPOILERS here.
When watching it I couldn’t help but think of The Tribe for some obvious reasons: both are set at a school and follow a group of young adults amidst a series of violent acts. One thing that really bugged me (to an extent, as you can see in my blog about it) in The Tribe was the lack of any supervising presence. That same thing happens in Raw. The film becomes a little absurd at times. Why isn’t anyone saying anything about, say, two girls viciously biting each other in front of a huge crowd of people on campus? Or about a party that extends into the morgue and involves dead bodies? I mean, at some point this has to spill over onto some who care’s radar, right?
The thing that works though is that Julia Ducournau isn’t really going for realism. From the feverish, beautiful lighting-
-to dream-interludes that have little to do with narrative progress and everything to do with mood-
-the film oscillates between real, meaningful relationships at the school (Justine’s (Garance Marillier) with Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella) is so good), straight up genre-gore moments, and something like an off-kilter unease. There’s plenty of comedy in Raw, too. Like this interaction between Justine and a random man at the hospital:
He shows her his dentures and thinks it’s hilarious. She doesn’t. The silent conversation is funny because of how funny he thinks it is. The opposite end of the color wheel hues adds to the strangeness. It’s a great sequence.
Raw also reminded me a lot of The Fits (plus, maybe, We Are What We Are). The film is clearly coming-of-age. Justine really grows up over the course of it. She loses her virginity, attempts a Brazilian wax, gets really drunk, eats meat, etc. The film gives her cannibalism backstory at the end, but it’s more about her experiencing life and becoming a woman.
Two other small things I loved about Raw. The score is great. There’s a scene where a car has crashed and the never-ending horn becomes non-diegetic music. It’s an awesome aural transition.
I think this also has one of the best drunk scenes I can remember. Justine at the party, right before her video is shared campus-wide, is perfect. Her body language and eyes-
The handheld camera trying to keep up with her. The way she sort of totters into people. (Unrelated: I love that pop of red in the background, in the frame above). It’s so believable.
I knew absolutely nothing about Joaquim going into the film, but it’s really, really good. Marcelo Gomes’ period piece about Portuguese colonialism in Brazil stars Julio Machado as Joaquim José da Silva Xavier. His performance is great. It’s so lively and frantic. I don’t know that I’ve seen many films where a character eats so enthusiastically and so often in-shot. It adds to the texture and grit of the film, which is probably, for me, its defining trait. You can feel and smell the sweat in Joaquim. It’s partially the really detailed wardrobe and makeup (although I take issue with how little Joaquim’s hair grows during the course of his expedition), partially the lingering, handheld camera, and partially the too-close interactions of people.
Joaquim is about the enslaved and the slaver. It’s a pretty nuanced look at things in that way, where characters – of course, including the title character – are often not how they initially present.
One of my favorite shots of the film comes when Joaquim stands outside and listens to Zua’s (Isabél Zuaa) rape. It’s a heartbreaking moment on so many levels (we’ve just been inside for the beginning of the assault). The frame is gorgeous. The wall that Joaquim leans against is so textured. His face is so helpless. The sound is horrifying. It’s a difficult, really amazing part of a movie that relies so much on environment and individual moments over any building sense of narrative tension.
Zua’s character (and Zuaa’s performance of it) is a highlight of the movie. She’s unexpected, three-dimensional, and very compelling to watch.
The pace of the film is also really great. It starts to fragment more and more as Joaquim leaves on his gold-seeking expedition. I think there are bolder temporal ellipses starting here. I’ll have to rewatch to see how true that is, but at the least it feels that way. Yes, we skip ahead through time in the first act of the film, but in the last two we seem to do so with more urgency and more opaquely.