March 16, 2017 Interview – Julia Ducournau
There is no exact science to the art of storytelling. While one writer throws every last detail in their work, others prefer the subtle approach, allowing their audience to develop their own perspective on the subject matter. Allured by the art of writing since a young age, French Director/Screenplay Writer Julia Ducournau soon realized cinema would be her platform for artistic expression.
Crafting her skills ever so carefully through writing and studies, Ducournau offered her full-length feature film Raw to audiences in 2016. A winner of countless awards and nominations, Raw has become one of the most talked about new Horror-themed films in recent times. Screened at Sundance Film Festival on January 22nd, at last Raw arrived at select theaters in the U.S.A. on March 10, 2017 via Focus World. Recently we caught up with the promising filmmaker to talk the story behind Raw, the elegancy of connecting with her audience, future plans, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Following your academic studies of screenwriting, you went into filmmaking. First, tell us, what inspired you to get involved in both writing and directing?
Julia Ducournau – Since I learned how to write, I started writing stories. I liked having essays and asked my parents to give me essays during holidays; I was kind of a nerd (laughs). I would also write poems and growing up, as a teenager, I thought I would like to make writing my life and make a living out of it. I didn’t know how really and then I heard about La Fémis when I was in prep school. I thought it made sense to me because my parents are big movie buffs and movies had a big part in my education. It was as important as reading the biggest authors of French literature for my parents; watching films from very big directors was as important as reading books. When I heard about this school, I thought it was exactly what was the best for me so I could combine my two passions in life.
Afterwards, I got into the school in the screenwriting department, because at the time, I thought was going to be a screenwriter only. In the first year we had a chance to direct small shorts. The first time I actually directed a small crew on short, I just realized there was no way someone else would direct something I had written; it had to be me. It was a big continuity for me in between writing and directing. If I only wrote, I would feel my work was not completed.
CrypticRock.com – Interesting and that is very understandable you would want to direct your own writing. Your debut full-length feature Raw has been getting a lot of attention. How did the concept of Raw come about for you?
Julia Ducournau – It came from two things. The first thing it came from was a conversation I had with my producer on the film. We were talking about cannibal movies and how it is funny, because in cannibal movies most of the time cannibals are seen as “they.” As if they come from outer space or they are zombies, or an outer threat to us if you would. I told him it is weird because cannibals are humans, they are not aliens or supernatural creatures; and I wondered why we would kick them out of humanity like that by saying “they,” looking at them from the other side.
I told him if I had to make a cannibal movie, I think I would make it an “I” movie and try and be in the shoes of the person who becomes cannibal. How they become a cannibal, what happens and what they are feeling. The moment that the person goes that we would have stopped, that is the moment that interests me and what does it make of that person. The thing is, you can’t say in my movie, that in half of my movie she is human and the other half she is not anymore; she doesn’t turn into a supernatural creature. The center of it is the question: what does is it mean to be human? For me it is a constant question when I make movies and something I really like to tackle. I think it is important that my audience also ask this about themselves when they relate to my character.
The second thing, I have always been obsessed with bodies. I work around bodies a lot, everything is around bodies in the work I do and the way I direct actors. For me cannibalism – among all taboos that challenge our sense of humanity – is really about it; it is really body-centered and I thought there was something for me there.
CrypticRock.com – It is a very compelling story. The film certainly touches on social issues, sexuality and perhaps even addiction. Is this an accurate assessment?
Julia Ducournau – Yes, but I wouldn’t call it addiction. I do not see it as a movie about that, I think it is definitely a movie about impulses. When you say addiction, that only concerns a certain part of the population, whereas impulses concern all of it. That is why it is important for me to make the difference.
CrypticRock.com – Understandable and very good point. Justine is a very strong character. That said, Raw has a good balance of different elements, and it has everything a good Horror film should have. It does not overdo the gore such as many other modern films. Was that important for you to have that balance?
Julia Ducournau – Of course. It is all the more important that my main goal, when I am writing the script and also when I am shooting it, is to build up empathy on my main character. You know she is going to commit an act that is so repulsive to us normally. Building of the empathy on her so we don’t leave the room after she has eaten human flesh saying, ‘Who is that crazy person? I don’t care about her, I can’t relate to her.’ I had to build up this empathy.
If I had shown her from the beginning in a gore fest, feasting over dead bodies with her sister, no one would have related to her, me included. The balance is essential to get to my point and question the sense of humanity, and the way I wanted to ask ‘What does it mean to be human?’ To see the humanity in her through this metamorphosis that is quite monstrous, into an animal.
It was very important to think how I am going to show that. On the other side, I could not avoid my subject. I have to show cannibalism, I have to show cannibals. I also had to show it but it had to be the journey of my character, it had to be organic. It had to be essential for us to understand her. To understand the impulses she is undergoing. She also panics seeing how she changes, how it is a whole new life and world for her. For me, I hate gratuitous violence; I hate it not because it shocks me, but it makes me not care. At some point I get desensitized to it, if you see too much too early in a film. If it keeps going on like that until the end, I have seen it, I understand. For me it is very important to think about what I was going to show and what was not necessary to show. That is how I did it.
CrypticRock.com – You did a great job of creating that balance. As you said, you want your audience to connect with the character; a lot of modern films will desensitize you and you will not care about the characters. Raw is out now in North America. How exciting is it for you to see your debut film have the potential of reaching such a massive audience?
Julia Ducournau – To be honest, I don’t quite realize it. It has been a very overwhelming year in a way. My way of keeping a grasp around what was happening with the movie was to concern it as work. It is work because I have worked a lot. It is like I am still working on my movie, I keep fighting for my movie until it is released. That is how I try and tackle this very weird thing that is happening. Obviously I am thrilled, but as I say, I am very superstitious. I don’t want to say we are there yet, I would say it is really unexpected (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Sometimes when you do not expect something, great things happen. Beyond Raw, will you go into the Horror genre in future projects?
Julia Ducournau – Of course. To be honest, I don’t really consider my movie to be Horror. I consider it to be a crossover between Comedy, Drama, and Horror. Which is a big difference for me, in France it is pretty rare to make crossover movies, you don’t have that many movies that mix genres. For me it was kind of a fight, it was something that raised a lot of questions such as ‘What is your movie?’ and ‘What is its identity?’ For me, its identity is to be a mix of different genres: I don’t want to just do a Comedy, just a Horror movie, or just a Drama.
My next feature that I am writing now, I will continue to try and master this very particular language that is mine and also the way I see the world. I don’t think for me there is some sort of perfect trinity between genre Horror, Comedy, and Drama. The three work for me very well together. There it will definitely be in the same language. All the more, this is only my first picture and I think it takes a lifetime to master one’s language.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed completely. It will be very exciting to see your future work. My last question for you is if you are a fan of the Horror and Sci-Fi genre, do you have any favorites?
Julia Ducournau – It is always so hard when people ask me this, I always come down to the same ones; there are so many I love so much. The first ones that have been super important to me in my life are The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Suspiria (1977), The Fly (1986), Eyes Without a Face (1962), Don’t Look Now (1973). There are so many but I think that is enough, because it will take hours (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – That is quite a great and diverse list. It is interesting to hear that because, as a writer, you clearly have a very diverse style.
Julia Ducournau – Yes that is true. I like to watch movies from every country and from every period possible. People say they think in France we don’t have a history of a genre, and you can prove them dead wrong when you look at the ’30s and 40’s when there were very good genre films being made in France. For some reason we have forgotten about that and I don’t know why.