Monthly Archives: April 2017

  • Raw (Grave) Julia Ducournau (Fr/Belge 2017)

    Raw (Grave) Julia Ducournau (Fr/Belge 2017) Garance Marillier

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 15 April 2015; ticket £9.75

    No one does it like KFC

    Ducournau’s Raw (Grave) is another movie off the assembly line of films whose scenarios are built out of ‘purple’ events defined by ‘images’ and linked by script rods whose function is to hold together what is an unwieldy shapeless molecular structure.

    Like ‘Elle’ the rationale of ‘Raw’ is to be found in its financing which in the age of multi institutions and companies coughing up the money, produces a nouvelle cuisine take on the traditional Euro pudding idea. The Euro Pudding film emanated out of film financing by a small number of blue chip European TV stations or their commercial spin offs, typically C4 Arte DFS RTI. There were some interesting successful movies coming out of this sort of arrangement, but often the artistic results seemed to be compromised by a primary rule of: thou shalt not offend. The Nouvelle Cuisine film cooks, of which Lionsgate for instance is a lead player both in production and in distribution, ties in a wide number of sources of finance, and often target a specifically young cool age group (there are plenty of films however that target the grey pound) taking as their the primary rule of film production: offend – transgress ( but not too much ) at all costs. In this way it is thought that ‘dullness’ can be avoided.

    Raw has twenty companies with a finger in the pie: Petit Film; Rouge International (co-production) Frakas Productions (co-production); Wild Bunch; Canal+ (participation); Ciné+ (participation) Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) (participation) ; Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral de Belgique (participation) ; Casa Kafka Pictures Movie Tax Shelter Empowered by Belfius (participation); La Wallonie (participation); Bruxelles Capitale (participation); Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (participation); Radio Télévision Belge Francophone (RTBF) (co-production); VOO (co-production), BE TV (co-production); Arte / Cofinova 12 (participation); Torino Film Lab (participation) (as Torinofilmlab); MEDIA Programme of the European Union (support); Angoa-Agicoa (support); Ciclic – Région Centre (developed with the support of); Rouge International. This list doesn’t include the distributors whom of course it is vital to have on board when selling the proposition of a movie like Raw to back end investors.

    The title of Raw gives the clue to what is happening in La la Land. The French title of Raw is ‘Grave’, not as you might think, ‘Cru’. Grave means ‘Heavy’ (metaphorically rather than physically). The title of movie productions put together in the manner of Raw and Elle, doesn’t point the film’s content or source. Rather the title points to the expectations of the intended audience. The title is a semantic ‘one word’ associative hook, like a candy bar cigarette brand or a soft drink.

    The result in Raw’s case is a movie that is like bad soft drink, a bit of fizz no substance. Ducournau’s Raw is an empty assemblage of components that have been filmed for their image value. Raw doesn’t so much lurch from event to event as from image to image. There are no events in the film, only images which are scripted shot and edited into Raw to dose it with regular shocks to keep the audience awake.

    Such is the paucity of Raw’s script material that even the background setting of the Veterinary College (named amusingly as some sort of private literary joke for St.Exupery) has to be pressed into service to provide a regular image fix. St Exupery has a hazing initiatory semester which gives Ducournau not only plenty of scope to dish it out to her young female protagonist, Justine (sic. another lit reference) but also allows plenty of time to be used up with long boringly repeated shots of young kids, with tits hanging out, partying. (this is reminiscent of Wheatley’s High Rise also padded out with long duration orgy shots with sex on the side). Even these party shots can’t give the necessary durational lift, so the St Exupery background, with its animal patients, provides a convenient bottomless pit of images that can be mined for content. Animals make strong images even if the images are innocent of any implication in the narrative (such as it is), but allow the film to be dragged out to its necessary 90 or so minutes.

    The acting in Raw is very close in style to the adverts for automobiles and mobile phones that proceeded it in the cinema’s programme. Lots of hardened eye looks, pouts and stretched rictus. But of course Raw is an advert in a way but for what? Cool self image perhaps; as Justine sucks on her sister’s severed finger as it were a nice KFC winglet. No one does it like KFC.

    In fact nothing is clear in Raw. If you try to pursue what its subject might be: power relations, body image, sibling rivalry, vegetarianism nothing is sustained, all the strands peter out pathetically. It becomes a film about nothing except money. If you try to fathom out Raw’s truth content all that you come to is the money. The only truth embodied in this film is money, the money it is supposed to return to its financial backers. Raw’s distribution strategy bears this out. After somehow getting positive reception from Cannes (the film industry is notoriously generous to some productions), the distributors decided on a quick blanket release to exploit the blood and sex filled trailer and the positive reviews, before the word of mouth did its damage.

    For all Raw pitches in as a transgressive movie, it is in fact rather demure even in its confusion. adrin neatrour

  • Graduation (Bacalaureat) Cristian Mungui (Romania 2016)

    Graduation (Bacalaureat) Cristian Mungui (Romania 2016) Adrian Titieni

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 4th April 2017; ticket £9.75

    Feels like one of those calling cards

    Cristian Mungui’s Graduation has elements that suggest a sort of family-centred gothic drama, a sub-branch of a David Lynch style of movie. A series of proto Gothic events which punctuate the movie, are the strongest moments in Graduation. These events comprising a number of ‘unexplained’ incidents one of which, the breaking of a window, opens the film; and another of which, the sexual assault on Eliza, gives the film narrative direction, if not its substance.

    The problem is that these elements fail to cohere, and Graduation as film is less than the sum of its parts. The movie registers as if it were the first chapter of a six part TV drama. But Cristian Mingui is unable to make Graduation work as a stand alone piece. It doesn’t develop as anything more than a series of events linked by a network of characters, about whom there is little reason to care because they are less characters more ciphers called into existence to activate the script. Graduation is peopled by roles who don’t possess identities but rather function as interlinking rods in the engine of the scenario. Like multi part TV series, Graduation is a densely scripted metaphoric representation, a depicting of the social matrix that relies on links between action and events to drive it foreword.

    The action is set in Cluj the regional capital of Transylvania. Mungui’s settings are contemporary renderings of various backgrounds: the unremarkable housing projects the places and apartments where people where people live and work. The mundane nature of these settings, the music ( a lot of Handel and Purcell emanating from Romeo’s car radio), the repeated shots of the stray dogs in the streets, all signify the film’s claims to a certain type of contemporary authenticity. Likewise the socio- psychic setting of the film which embeds all relations within webs of failure and corruption that bind togather the institutional matrices of post communist Romania. But again, like the backgrounds, the matrices of corruption seem to emanate from a stylistic noir conceit, representing the film’s claim on authenticity within the TV drama tradition. Everything has to be expressed as corrupt because in accord with the conceit, developed from Marlow onwards, the corrupt is the best dramatic representation of the ‘real’. The trouble is that in Graduation so much of the content describes corruption that it is reduced to cliché. As cliché folds over cliché the film starts to pay the cost of the script’s inability to avoid predictable development.

    Graduation’s script becomes a series of conventional devices that are overdetermining and fail to create tension in the drama: the film starts to become dull. A quality that affects an acting style adopted which again looks derivative from TV noir model. The main gestural resources of the acting are invariant sets of: eye shots – the hard eyed stare being the most overused, the stretched rictus, the facial gesture of down cast eyes signifying wait and see. Such is the invariance in body language and gesture in particular of Romeo’s wife that she becomes a sort of running joke.

    Initially Graduation starts out as an assured drama with the notable moment of a glass window shattered by a stone. As it develops, in particular after Eliza’s ‘rape’ it quickly resorts to trading in plot moments. The characters become pawns of the frenzied plot. We are not given the space to see something in the relations. We are manipulated by events: the heart attack of Romeo’s grandmother, the endless machinations of the corruption machines, Romeo’s love affair, the abortion, an autistic boy, the continuous hints in the scenario that Romeo has some unrevealed secret.

    Mingui has made a confused film. The gothic content the inter personal and the social relations don’t mesh but rather vie for primacy making a film that is out of focus and looking more like the opening episode of a mini series that will never be completed. adrin neatrour