Julia Ducournau

by Amy Marie Slocum

Dress by JC de Castelbajac, Silk and gold bracelet by Les Perles de Noa, Chain and diamond bracelet by Agatha Paris, and Snake bracelet by Viveka Bergström.

Dress by JC de Castelbajac, Silk and gold bracelet by Les Perles de Noa, Chain and diamond bracelet by Agatha Paris, and Snake bracelet by Viveka Bergström.

Sometimes, the never-before-seen spot in your panties requires something more than a book by Judy Blume or an episode of Gossip Girl to be understood. What happens, for instance, when it presents itself as mutant slime? The transition into womanhood is often gnawed thin by sentimental waxing and belabored chitchat. So, promising French writer/director Julia Ducournau employs gore. “It’s not easy,” she says of the metamorphosis from young lass into lady as she steps into a garden in Paris’ Porte de Bagnolet for a cigarette. “It’s something you have to win, something you have to tame in you. It’s not obvious from the beginning. I’d rather have someone become a monster, and demonstrate that that is how she’s dealing with her changing body, than having some girl call her friend and tell her how uneasy she is with her body, and how hard it is to be a teenage girl, and blah blah blah.”

Ducournau’s short film, “Junior,” which was awarded the Rail d’Or at Cannes last spring, features a comical tomboy in the process of “becoming a monster”—in other words, “a woman,” or as Ducournau wryly suggests—coping with eerie, slime-oozing sores that mysteriously appear on her body. 

“In my film, I didn’t make this process painful,” says Ducournau. “What she undergoes is, well, gore. It all sort of happens at the same time and she’s just a bit dazzled by it. The looks of others around her change… And that’s painful—that she’s not going to be the same for other people. But this isn’t a physical pain. It’s a psychological pain—like, ‘Am I going to be the same for people I love, or not? Or am I going to lose them in the end?’”

These questions—the complications of the constantly evolving woman—are ones that the 28-year-old will revisit in her forthcoming features; questions like how to exact revenge on bullies with the help of a personal ghost cohort; or balance your career while transforming into a cannibal. The first of these features, not surprisingly a dark comedy with some fantasy, which she wrote and co-directed with Virgile Bramly, takes place in and around an overeaters’ anonymous center and will premiere on Canal+ later this year.

Ducournau’s inventive use of extraordinary oddities—the grotesque and the supernatural—to drive her female protagonists imparts a kind of glory to the pursuit of female strength. She’s reluctant to call the technique “empowerment,” but agrees that for some viewers, there is much to be gained in exploring the battle. “I don’t want to teach lessons, but the feeling I want to convey in each of my movies is that I want the women to end up to be warriors,” she states. “I’m not talking to every woman on this planet, but I want to convey that feeling that whatever they’ve been through with their body, they can make it something good for them, and make them learn how to fight for themselves, and apprehend the world like a warrior.”

Will this female warrior mindset pay off in an industry dominated by male ego? “I should probably say that it’s a disadvantage and that there’s inequality,” she responds, “but I don’t know if it’s true today in France. Maybe not in other countries, but here, there are so many movies that are produced each year with a lot of female directors. And maybe it can be an advantage because women are perhaps more intuitive, and manipulative in a way. Those are skills you need as a director—to understand immediately who the person in front of you is inside and determine where you want to drive him or her. Those are feminine skills.” It’s an insight that astutely sums up Ducournau’s directorial de force: but spare the gory details? Never. 

Written By Matthew Bedard
Photography: Jean-Sebastien Deligny at LastNightPeople.com.
Styling: Natalie Yuksel at Natalie-Yuksel.com.