Monday, 10 April 2017

Raw (aka Grave)

Rof doog ti si tahw?

Raw (aka Grave)
France/Belgium 2016
Directed by Julia Ducournau
UK cinema release print.

Back in 1989, my cousin and I were scanning the local newspaper trying to find something to do for the evening. We didn’t know any of the movies playing so we went to the film review section and found a certain movie which the guy writing the article said was the sickest, shocking, most over the top depraved drama he’d ever seen... so of course, me and my cousin decided to definitely go and see that one. As it transpired, the movie was in no way even remotely sick, shocking or depraved, by a long shot. In fact, if we hadn’t read the review we probably wouldn’t even had known we were supposed to feel shocked. I vowed never to be taken in by such hyperbole written by someone who obviously had the naivete and life experiences of a three year old again but... oh dear, it just happened to me once more.

I was surprised that my local Cineworld even got Raw, to be fair. They usually don’t show subtitled films and they tend to warn people that the film they are about to see is "in foreign". I always get offended by this and also by the fact that the Cineworld App lists this movie with French in brackets, to somehow distinguish it from the other films and single it out as something to be wary of. It’s a despicable practice and it needs to stop. Non-English language films are quite often better made and more interesting than their Hollywood counterparts and it fills me with range that the cinema thinks so little of people that they think the potential audience somehow need warning about this stuff.

As for the film itself, well... I got kind of angry when I left the cinema because this film has a reputation for having a lot of people being sick in the audience and also walking out to vomit etc. I don’t think I’m in any way jaded to the spectacle of cinema and all I can say is that if this was truly their reaction to this movie... well... modern audiences must be very fragile to think this stuff is in any way intense or shocking. Either that or they’re all five years old and have not seen many movies yet. To be fair, I have noticed a steady decline in teenagers these days being in any way experimental or willing to throw themselves into experiences so, perhaps, this general dumbing down in the ability to interact with life might explain the reaction to this movie. Whatever it is... I really can’t fathom it.

So, Raw has a few nice things about it, to be fair, but for every nice thing that tries to elevate it, something else is always there to counter it so, I’ll deal with the positive things first because... well... it’s just nice to open with positive things.

Okay... so the acting style of the movie is very naturalistic, in that it’s not overblown or overly dramatic. More Robert Altman than Steven Spielberg, so to speak. Nothing is played, at least by the actors inhabiting their characters, as in anyway shocking or heavy. It is what it is and the three main protagonists... Garance Marillier as Justine (with whom we share the world POV with... so she’s kind of the main protagonist, if you will), Ella Rumpf as Justine’s sister Alexia and Rabah Nait Oufella as Justine’s room mate Adrien... are all absolutely impeccable in their roles. So that’s cool.

There are also the occasional, nicely done shot designs and a certain tendency to insert throw away images which could be easily mistaken for an almost surreal dreamscape in certain areas of the film... although when these things blend with the actual narrative, they tend to play almost as red herrings rather than actually belonging to an altered state of consciousness. And... that’s it on the good stuff, I think.

Onto the bad...

Well, the story is somewhat clumsy, I felt. It’s all set during Justine’s first week at a veterinarian college as she undergoes, with her fellow ‘freshers’, an intensive ‘hazing’ ritual. Hazing is pretty much a stupid, ritualistic and primitive practice which I wish students would grow out of now. There’s no excuse for this juvenile stuff. Anyway, that’s what the story is about and the vegetarian Justine is more or less forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney. From there on she gets a taste for raw, uncooked meat... particularly of the human kind. And that’s when the film really goes belly up, in a way. This is because the sequence of events throughout the movie... right up to what I’m assuming is supposed to be some kind of  twist ending coda, by the way it’s dramatically revealed but which most people will see coming from the first ten minutes of the film anyway... is all so predictable. It’s almost as if the director is sign posting various things are going to be happening each time something is ‘on the cards’ soon and I felt very let down by this.

And it’s very ham fisted, too.

Not in any way subtle... which is where some of the film's allegedly gruesome sequences might have seen the benefit, big time, in supporting the naturalistic style of the actors in the movie. Instead, the director decides to have Jim Williams’ score slowly dialling up to eleven at certain narrative points like the end cycle of a whistling kettle coming to a boil and... yeah... it really doesn’t work here, to be honest. It’s like the director knows her film isn’t having the kind of effect she is going for so she’s looked for a composer to emphasise certain elements and then wielded his score like a blunt instrument to try and beat the audience into submission and say “Look... this bit’s supposed to be really edgy and unbearable because the music is bashing your ear drums to tell you it is... right?” And that’s a shame because, for all I know, the images with a more subtle score might have packed more punch but, yeah,  this doesn’t do the material any justice. And it’s a shame in more ways than one because it’s actually a great musical score in its own right and I’m sure it would be cool as a regular stand alone listen... it just seems inappropriate to the style of imagery, to be honest. And, of course, as luck (or company stupidity) would have it, you can only get the score as an electronic download rather than on a proper CD so... I’m destined never to hear this thing again, I suspect.

And that’s about as much as I can say about Raw. It may be okay and have some meaning for youngsters or first time movie goers who are not in any way versed in the language of cinema but for the average movie goer I would say that you should be mindful that it is very predictable and certainly won’t show you anything you haven’t really seen before. In fact, if you want to see a much better French movie about one woman’s obsession with eating flesh, then I would recommend the excellent film In My Skin (aka Dans Ma Peau), starring and directed by Marina de Van as a much more mature and somewhat surreal alternative to similarly themed, obsessive subject matter. As for Raw, well... I was hoping for something special from this one but, alas, it was not to be.

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