Raw; The Sense of an Ending; Clash; I Am Not Your Negro and more – review

A vegetarian student craves human flesh in Julia Ducournau’s prize-winning Raw, The Sense of an Ending is a bloodless affair, and Huppert sings

Last year I was on a film festival jury that wound up, after several hours of finicky deliberation, giving our top prize to Julia Ducournau’s coming-of-cannibalistic-age nightmare Raw (Universal, 18). It was, to all of us, an unexpected vote of consensus for a film that seduces through repulsion. “What have we approved?” a fellow juror asked me with a grin as we delivered our verdict. Ducournau’s debut lands on screen like a live, throbbing heart plucked from its housing chest, wrapped in rose-coloured satin instead of butcher’s paper.

It doesn’t take long for a grisly grindhouse soul to emerge from its gleaming exterior. As the rituals of campus hazing take their dizzying toll on her, vegetarian veterinary student Justine (Garance Marillier) finds within herself a grislier kind of carnal urge than that usually felt by college kids. As a witty metaphor for the subversive powers of female sexuality, Raw bunks in the same sorority as Carrie and Ginger Snaps, though its most sense-searing excesses are very much its own. Ducournau sees as much body-horror potential here in a botched bikini wax as in a bout of literal knuckle-gnawing. A film in complete sympathy with its heroine’s extreme bodily desires, it’s as grossly red and as quiveringly tender as the best rare steak.

You won’t find any such queasy, gutsy colour in The Sense of an Ending (Studiocanal, 15). Ritesh Batra and Nick Payne’s adaptation of Julian Barnes’s Booker winner is consistently, comfortingly beige in both visual palette and emotional tenor, rarely raising its voice or pulse as its cardigan-sporting protagonist (Jim Broadbent) reflects stoically on a lifetime of stalled, sabotaged or misinterpreted relationships. It’s tasteful, considered stuff, its many fine actors playing as if in a solemn string ensemble, though the novel’s subtle human stakes turn a bit watery.

The drama of Clash (Arrow, 15), on the other hand, begins at a joltingly high pitch and clings to it for dear life. Set in 2013, Mohamed Diab’s immersive riot study follows the rough street warfare between Egyptian army supporters and the newly overthrown Muslim Brotherhood government, the camera fixed inside a single police van, where offenders from both factions have been bundled. It’s a tight tension exercise; as violence ricochets around them, the van itself seethes with conflict.

Watch the trailer for I Am Not Your Negro.

Bristling furiously in a lower key, Raoul Peck’s eloquent, Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro (Altitude, 12) celebrates the pointed prose of the author and civil rights activist James Baldwin, but isn’t a complacent retrospective. A present-day need and context for his decades-old social criticism are urgently and angrily articulated.

Still on the documentary front, and making a swift transfer from cinemas, Williams (Curzon Artificial Eye, 12) is a stout-hearted human history of adversity-stricken Formula One team founder Frank Williams that is as thoughtful as it is thorough for racing buffs. The straight-ahead presentation might not woo the unconverted, however.

Finally, some fluffier relief. The premise of Souvenir (Studiocanal, 12) – Isabelle Huppert is a washed-up ex-Eurovision star turned paté factory worker granted a second bite at the glitterball – is almost too delicious for any film to live up to. “Huppert sings!” the posters should cry. Bavo Defurne’s gentle bauble can’t quite support its leading lady’s sheer force of presence, but it’s hard to resist all the same. It’s certainly a more winning diversion than Going in Style (Warner, 12), a desultory geriatric bank heist comedy in which Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman practically collect their salary on camera.

Too good to be true… Isabelle Huppert as a ‘washed-up ex-Eurovision star turned paté factory worker’ in Souvenir.
Too good to be true… Isabelle Huppert as a ‘washed-up ex-Eurovision star turned paté factory worker’ in Souvenir. Photograph: Releasing/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

For a high, comfortingly familiar laugh-to-gag ratio, turn instead to Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later, an eight-episode extension of the oddly enduring, even more oddly endearing satirical summer-camp franchise that puppyishly delivers on every expected front and no additional ones besides. That will do. As long as Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler et al are still mugging in good spirits, the joke – an old one by now, yes, and never a wise one – remains funny.

Contributor

Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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