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Raw (2016) - Film Review

Written by Martin Le Brech

Raw is a French movie from 2016, directed by Julia Ducournau and starring Garance Marillier. It tells the story of Justine, a 16-year-old who is entering a veterinary school in Belgium. She’s been raised as a vegetarian by her parents who both attended the same school, as does Justine’s sister Alex. A series of events lead Justine to develop an obsession with flesh and eventually deeper impulses, all while she has to fit in her new status as a fresher and grow up as a young woman.

It is of utmost importance to understand Raw as a depiction of the traditional hazing that’s poisoning many higher education institutions in France and, indeed, Belgium. Young people that have barely left their family nest are being thrown into a whole new unsettling and often merciless world. This new environment and its many norms and folklore is being imposed without any sensible justification. This is a tough and radical change in the way Justine’s living her life as a teenager. As a spectator of this, we are as lost as her, being faced with so many new and unpleasant elements that we don’t know nor have the time to digest.

When asked to address older students as “venerable”, to be forced out of bed in the middle of the night, and ultimately to eat a raw rabbit kidney, Justine does not even have the time to question and barely the occasion to reject the offer. She is insidiously forced to accept such toxic traditions, she is left at the mercy of a system she’s trapped in, without her consent. Eventually, this leads her to liberate the worst deviance that she did not even know she was hiding.

The very genius of Raw is to transcribe this into a film so the spectators can empathise with the characters. Whether it’s Justine, her flatmate Adrien, Alexia, or even Justine’s parents; they all, without exception, are products of this system that they never challenged.

The many barriers and “rites de passage” that Justine goes through are being greatly influenced by this violent environment. Bonding again with her sister, her first drinking, her first sexual relationship. All of these events are one way or another linked to the toxic environment she is trapped in and we witness her falling into. The bodies’ feelings and pains are exacerbated throughout the movie. From Justine’s body hair shamed by her older sister or the unstoppable and gut-wrenching scene when she feels sick in the bathroom, many will find Raw difficult to watch, and definitely graphically challenging.

The original title the movie is ‘Grave’ which can be translated by “severe” or “serious” – this is what the film is essentially talking about: the radical changes a young woman is going through in these important years of her life. ”C’est grave”, translated as “It is serious” ultimately admits Justine to Adrien when he becomes suspicious about her behaviour. This is when she finally faces her demons and accept her condition. She washes herself of past mistreatments to fully embrace herself, accepting who she is and ultimately in this very scene open up and let her body follow its instinct. It’s worth mentioning the excellent performance of Garance Marillier in her first role in a full-length movie.

I would encourage you to try a diet during this quarantine period, but savouring some great vegetarian or vegan food may not be appetising during the viewing of this film. ‘Raw’ is definitely challenging to watch and digest but its content is always on point. It is a must-watch and a great film to not only help support independent cinema, but also female-directed horror films.


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