It’s when Alexia’s breasts start leaking motor oil that there’s no mistaking the father of her child was the tricked-out Cadillac she had tough intercourse with after the erotic automobile show, the night she killed a man by stabbing him within the ear.
That’s before she goes on a killing spree, breaks her nostril and disguises herself because the lacking son of a hearth chief on steroids who agrees: she is his child.
That is only a glimpse of the harrowing happenings in “Titane,” Julia Ducournau’s audacious splatter-drama that opened Friday. The film is profitable prizes and significant approval for its comedian carnage and upending of gender — and for a uncooked performance by the newcomer Agathe Rousselle as Alexia, who’s carnally drawn to automobiles.
“Titane” is also producing dropped jaws and screams from filmgoers scandalized by its gory, outré method to the story of a girl who, as Ducournau put it, “is driven by her impulses and desires for the dead material that is metal” but who “starts getting in touch with her humanity step by step.” One reviewer called it “the most shocking film of 2021.”
Sitting at a French-enough bistro the day before “Titane” had its first screening on the New York Film Festival, the phrase Ducournau used most typically wasn’t “berserk” or another scary-sounding adjective reviewers have used. The phrase was “love.”
“The whole point with my film is to make you feel what the characters feel, but it’s hard to make you feel love, to physically feel it” cinematically, she said. “So I decided to do it as a challenge and ask: can you do that with love?”
Rousselle, too, used the phrase to explain the movie in a separate interview: “You have this beautiful love story between my character, who has never been in love before, and a father who doesn’t think he can ever love again and they find out what loving means and what love means,” she said. “Love is the movie.”
At 37, after simply two feature movies, Ducournau, a Paris native, has already become a genre film sensation. In the view of Alexandra West, the author of “Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity,” Ducournau’s work is “extreme and absurd but also human” and “part of the driving force behind what’s to come for cinema.”
“She’s challenging audiences and getting audiences to react to cinema and to talk to each other,” West said. “That’s exciting.”
The director M. Night Shyamalan took notice: Ducournau directed two episodes of the macabre AppleTV+ series “Servant,” for which he’s an govt producer. “Julia Ducournau killed it. Brooding, shocking & cinematic,” he tweeted.
Reviews of “Titane” have been principally celebratory (Entertainment Weekly called it “outrageously good”) whereas still aware of its grisly bravado (“the work of a demented visionary.” IndieWire wrote). Others wondered: to what finish? In his review for The Times, A.O. Scott wrote: “For all its reckless style and velocity, ‘Titane’ doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go.”
In July, “Titane” was the shock winner of the Palme d’Or, the highest prize on the Cannes Film Festival. It was the primary time a girl had received the award since Jane Campion in 1993 for “The Piano.” Ducournau said she was in disbelief till she hugged Sharon Stone and wouldn’t let go. Then the actress requested how she was feeling.
“I said, I’m not sure yet, but it feels like history?” Ducournau said. “She started laughing, only the way Sharon Stone can laugh, with no stress and no tension and super radiant, and she said, honey, it is history.”
Ducournau was caught off guard initially of the ceremony when Spike Lee, president of the jury, was requested to call the primary prizewinner but as an alternative unintentionally revealed “Titane” was the first-prize winner. He later said he “messed up,” and apologized to festival organizers.
“At the moment it was hard to find the humor in it,” Ducournau said. “But in retrospect, I find it very much.”
Ducournau said she knew she wished a nonprofessional to play Alexia. After her casting director found Rousselle on Instagram, Ducournau said, she made Rousselle return a number of occasions over six months before giving her the job, they usually labored together for a yr before capturing.
To put together for a bodily demanding function involving extreme transformations, Rousselle studied dance and boxing, and discovered wrenching monologues from different movies and shows, like the “Twin Peaks” graveyard speech delivered by Laura Palmer’s best friend.
Rousselle also spent up to eight hours a day getting out and in of make-up and prosthetics that gave her bigger breasts, expanded stomach shapes and three totally different noses (for a look-if-you-dare nose-breaking scene). It helped that she had labored as a mannequin favored for her androgyny.
“Gender was never relevant to me,” said Rousselle. “When I worked in fashion I would take off my clothes for a fitting and they would say, you have boobs? I would say yes, deal with it.”
Beneath the gore is a film that’s affectionate in its scrutiny of affection and family, made by a director who cares deeply about family, id and, most tenderly, the lives of girls.
Women in transformation, truly. That’s what Ducournau explored in her quick film “Junior” (2011), about an adolescent whose physique seeps goo as she evolves from tomboy to girly-girl. She explored transformations once more in her debut feature, “Raw” (2017), a blood-soaked coming-of-age story about a young lady who gruesomely converts from vegetarian to carnivore to cannibal.
She does it once more in “Titane” with Alexia, a girl whose being pregnant (due to that Cadillac) and whose propensity to kill at random are linked to the titanium plate docs put in her head after a automobile crash she survived as a lady. (“Titane” is French for “titanium.”)
“Titane” opened in France in July, and Rousselle said she had been heartened by the response from “the nerdy crowd of high school kids who play video games and have blue hair.” Some have seen the film a number of occasions, she said.
Rousselle thought the movie could possibly be vital to youngsters “because it goes through the questions of how you want to be and who you can be and how you can escape where you’re from and how much control you can have in your life,” she said. “It’s freeing for them.”
Ducournau said that as she mulls her subsequent project, she found inspiration within the work of the photographer Nan Goldin and the administrators Stanley Kubrick, Pier Paolo Pasolini and particularly David Cronenberg. In his movies — like “Crash,” about people turned on by automobile accidents — she said that “everything that people find repulsive could be shown as human.”
“A vision that transcends expectations inspires me very much,” she said.