The brains behind the French cannibal film that overwhelmed Toronto audiences shares her tricks for creating imperil, hair-raising torso horror

Julia Ducournaus debut feature film, Raw, attained headlines at Toronto last year when a couple of frightened audience members fainted in the cinema and an ambulance had to be called. All advertising is good advertising, but the administrator wasnt thrilled.

For me, its really something that I could have done without, Ducournau said in January in Paris, to tells a chamber full of press. Her film which opened the coming week in Australia had just screened; none of us fainted. I read it snowball on the internet for a few weeks subsequentlies, and theres pretty much nothing you can do about that. At one point people were talking about a movie that is not mine … My movies not a shocker, its not a blood fest; its more than that.

Ducournaus cannibal horror film is as much torso horror as it is black comedy and coming-of-age drama, and it uses the cinematic grammar of all three. Naive teen Justine( Garance Marillier) heads off to join her sister Alexia( Ella Rumpf) at veterinary college. As part of a brutal hazing, she is forced to eat a rabbit kidney and thats when the craves take hold.

The film is troubling, riveting, claustrophobic and darkly hilarious. The Guardian Peter Bradshaw was among many critics who praised it: What is very impressive about Raw is that perfectly everything about it is disquieting , not just the obvious instants of revulsion: there is no let up in the ambient background buzz of anxiety, he wrote.

At the Paris press event, Ducournau scrutinized a few of the techniques that had get her there.

I asked them to watch horror movies and booze beer

It should come as no surprise that a coming-of-age film about cannibalism, in which the protagonist is a virgin vegetarian wife, should be so much about flesh: the hating of it, the coveting of it, the grabbing and the biting of it. Key scenes revolve around intense physicality from the young performers, which signified the leadings needed to get to know one another, fast.

From the first day of the shooting, I wanted them to be completely OK with each others bodies, Ducournau told. Patently I didnt asking questions to get naked in front of each other Im not a tyrant or a perv but I did ask them to watch horror movies together.

Under Ducournaus orders, Marillier, Rumpf and Rabah Nat Oufella( who plays Justines gay roommate and enjoy concern, Adrien) gather together Marilliers house before hitting began to watch scary movies.

When you watch horror movies together it creates something very intimate, the administrator told. For her portion, she watches one a night. When youre intimidated, you tend to get a bit closer to the person next to you … and because they are different gender, it was[ especially] important to me that they were completely at ease with one another. Of course, I asked them to booze beer as well.

From the first day of the shooting, I craved[ the casting] to be completely OK with each others bodies, tells Raw director Julia Ducournau.

I threw everything close to the ground

Much of the film takes place in college, particularly in college dormitories, which swim in the organic, heaving messiness of teens. When you look in the chamber of a teenager, you will always have some food that is mixed with clothes and you always have these weird odors, Ducournau told. I wanted to give the impression of something that stinks a bit.

The heat and dank stickiness that imbues these chambers gives them a living, exhaling quality that adds to the animalism of their inhabitants. But Ducournau wanted to somehow get her characters bodies to appear less human, too. I wanted them to be like animals, on their all-fours, all the time, on their knees. So I asked the artwork administrator to set everything close to the ground.

The dorm beds are mattresses; the chairs are barely cushions; the desks are low and, if a character requires something, it will be at the bottom of the wardrobe. The performers slouch and slump their shoulders, comprehending at furniture to propel themselves through chambers; whole scenes play out on the floor.

Julia Ducournau: I wanted to give the impression of something that stinks a little bit.

Without me even mentioning a word to them, this seemed to give them a more animal-like posture, she told. It also signified they are necessary lots of carpeting on placed. If theyre always on their knees, there has to be a reason why and the reason is why it cosy, its possible. Otherwise I reckon nobody would believe it.

When we finished hitting, she was in tears

Raw is the third film Ducournau has worked on with Marillier, after the directors short film, Junior, and her Tv movie, Mange. We are very, very close to each other in real life. We have a strong bond. We trust each other very much, the administrator told. It allows us to push the boundaries further and further.

Marilliers character Justine morphs through the movie from virgin vegetarian to well, its a cannibal film. She is just so different between the beginning and the end and obviously we couldnt hit in chronological order, Im not that famous, Ducournau laughed. It signified Marillier had to switch between characters in a day, sometimes from one shot to another. That was a big challenge for her

Another challenge was the physicality of the role. As the tension reaches its peak, Justine is shot tight and close in bed under a sheet, writhing and flailing and scratching her skin as she physically opposes her urges.

I described it to her as alike[ to] when junkies try to come clean; I depicted her what I wanted to see a lot of like Trainspotting and stuff. And when we finished hitting that scene, she was really in tears … it was too intense somehow.

It didnt help that crew members had been prodding and poking the actor through the sheet. I wanted to create this sense that the body is super tensed and is expecting something are in place to made her, she told. She was really proud to have done this, subsequentlies; she was really, really allayed in a way, and very proud.

Garance Marillier in Raw. Photograph: Wild Bunch

Prosthetics are route more fun

For all the talk of the fainting, simply a few scenes in the film demonstrate the horror of cannibalism up close and, where she could, Ducournau continued clear of digital results. I like prosthetics, I think theyre route more fun what the hell are you get on screen is route more vivid and organic and gross, she told. Its also very well prepared when you bring prosthetics to a placed its like everyone is back in summer camp, everyone wants to touch it, wants to savor it, maybe you set some blood on your face. Its good for the spirit[ of the placed ].

The cannibalism scene audiences have been reacting to most is not particularly gratuitous in fact it involves something as small-scale, and as common, as a thumb. I could have chosen route worse than a thumb, right? I could have attained it, like, tripes, brain, buttocks, something big and fat, you know? But I did not, Ducournau told.

Fingers are, in a horrible route, bite-sized and we invest so much period with them near our mouths. Thats why it ran. We all know that there are two things in a thumb: there is a bone, and there is a nail. And we know that if we take off the very small amount of skin that there is on it, you get right to the bone.

When she fees it, you actually dont see that much, because its concealed between her own fingers, Ducournau told. That was part of the plan too. There were some things I had to show, and some I had to leave to my audiences imagination.

Raw is showing in select Australian cinemas from 20 April

Guardian Australia visited Rendez Vous with French Cinema in Paris as a guest of UniFrance

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