Ducournau’s debut feature, “Raw,” is a shocker: Set in an oppressive veterinary school where a young vegetarian develops a taste for live flesh, the film is an escalating succession of stomach-churning twists, each one more creatively depraved than the last — from licking someone’s eyeball at a college party to the now-infamous finger scene. The film ignited strong reactions at Cannes, where it premiered in Critics’ Week, and was so upsetting to some in Toronto that there were reports of audience members passing out at midnight screenings.
Such projects are a rarity in France — a country whose critics put foreign genre directors on a pedestal, and yet whose state funding system prefers to greenlight more “personal” projects. “I don’t think auteur and genre should be separate. For me, an auteur is just someone who has a very strong personal vision, and who knows how to communicate it,” she says.
Even more challenging is finding support for “crossover” movies, as she refers to hybrids that blend humor, horror, and emotional elements. Lucky for Ducournau, her radical sensibility was encouraged at France’s La Fémis film school, where she enrolled as a screenwriting student. While there, “I realized there was a very logical continuity for me between writing and directing; it’s part of the same gesture.”
Both her Cannes-selected student short, “Junior,” and an early made-for-TV chiller called “Mange” (co-directed with Virgile Bramly) reflect a body-oriented obsession that reaches its apotheosis in “Raw.” “My parents are doctors, so I’m very used to some things other people find upsetting,” she says.
With “Raw,” Ducournau’s goal was to put audiences in the shoes of someone they would consider a monster, asking them to identify with a character they might otherwise dismiss as inhuman. “The thing about a cannibal, they are not supernatural, like vampires or werewolves; they are people. I always wonder, what is the difference between me and them? I think it’s very slim, and that by acknowledging the dark side, we can grow up and become more moral humans.”