A week into the 74th Festival de Cannes, our Festiville correspondent Brian Formo notes a ’weird pregnancy’ theme, and pours out the adjectives for Julia Ducournau’s Titane.
Yesterday, I wrote about how watching slow cinema in the theater again has reacquainted me with patient viewing. But after Wes Anderson’s new movie, The French Dispatch, delivered the equivalent of eight energy drinks to end the evening, only something different from the usual thoughtful character drama would do today. That sent me out to four screenings—but I’m going to just list two here because I had my first fest snafu.
An expired Covid result threw two screenings out the window while I got re-tested. I waited for the all-clear by catching up on this Netflix Fear Street series that y’all are watching (my preference is the second one, though there are way too many needle drops for my taste, so hoping the 1666 one comes through with some different music cues, or even a little silence). So today, denizens of Festiville, will be a much shorter dispatch.
What we have are two oddities that couldn’t be more dissimilar: the no-holds-barred Titane and the restrained Lamb. Baby Annette (from the Cannes opening film, Annette) ain’t the only weird pregnancy at Cannes. There is a theme running through the festival of the horrors of birth, and with birth rates trending down in almost every country, this feels even more topical than films-made-during-Covid at this festival (and thank heavens).
Titane is Julia Ducournau’s follow-up to Raw. It is impossible to describe without saying too much (and some people have said too much on Letterboxd, fair warning). The tiny bit of summary that will still leave 100 minutes of surprises is that it follows a young woman (Agathe Rousselle), with a metal plate in her head, who performs at a dance club where women grind or sud atop cars and men ask for their autographs.
Our anti-heroine, who is introduced as a child—a violent brat of a child, who causes a car accident—does more than grind cars. We’ll leave it at that because there are certain set pieces here that are unlike anything you’ve seen. Some of it is very gross, some of it is humorous—often it’s both at the same time. Though the car stuff is similar to David Cronenberg’s Crash, and the body horror in line with Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Inside, there are some elements that also remind me of Claire Denis’ Beau Travail.
Generally, I try to avoid comparing movies to others but that blender listed above is the most sensical way to describe what you’re in for without giving away the weird plot vibrations. And even with that trio of films there are still two aspects of our anti-heroine’s journey that remain a complete mystery if you’re reading this. Did I mention that it’s also funny? Humor, horror, sex, violence, cars, and family. Titane literally has it all.
If you are adventurous and have a stomach of steel, here are a few more adjectives to whet your appetite: insane, unsettling, unnerving, confounding, profane, mysterious, and absolutely beautiful. I squirmed every two minutes, holding my knees together or grabbing my seat. It starts as a fetish giallo, moves into body horror, and then to something weirdly tender. Big applause to Ducournau for a huge sophomore swing, the score by Jim Williams (Possessor), the camerawork by Ruben Impens (Beautiful Boy), and the two fearless lead performances. Vincent Lindon (La Haine) plays the captain of a firehouse. You won’t wanna know how that comes into play. (Also three cheers to Future Islands, old southeastern rock-n-roll buddies of mine, who get a full song played in a scene that will likely be shared all year). Egads, what a wild movie—and what a slap across the face at this 2021 festival.
Let’s see what other Letterboxd users have to say. Jordan Ruimy raves that “Julia Ducournau has reinvented cinematic body-horror via a combination motor fuel and sex. Singular, shocking, repulsive and incendiary. An instant cult classic.” Adrián Peña saw another Cronenberg link, declaring “New Flesh has been reborn!” Antoine Booyoo sees a theme between Titane and another raucous Cannes debut, Benedetta, writing “First the crucifix dildo, now the gear lever dildo” in a four-star review. Tanguy Renault says “Julia Ducournau activated the ‘horny on main’ mode.” And in beffuddled one-word reviews we have Iana Murray with “fuck,” Jome Dunske with “uh” and Monab with “!!!!!”
Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Lamb answers the question of what Paddington would be like if mixed with Scandinavian doom and gloom. The central story is of an isolated couple in Iceland (Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason) who operate an expansive farm. Their routine is plowing the land and feeding the sheep. One day, they deliver a ewe’s highly abnormal newborn. Some comedy ensues, but also: incredibly stark photography announcing an unknown presence amid the Icelandic fog.
For me, the human story is too withholding and then rather generic to be involving, but the animals and the mood are to die for. The creepy and expansive Icelandic landscape alone makes me even more hyped for Robert Eggers’ The Northman (both Lamb and The Northman were written by Sjón). And the animal photography that creates the moodiness will be the thing that finally pushes me to watch Gunda. A number of the Letterboxd reviews coming in today noted that this was their first film of the festival, which is certainly a unique intro Cannes, Deni writes that his Cannes is “starting strong; really fantastic photography and gripping story (in Lamb).” Louka says, “the concept is really nice but I was more attracted to the horror/fantasy than the humor; unfortunately, the whole center of the film tries humor.” Lee Stobby says that he was “was completely floored; (Lamb) loses steam once you figure out what’s going on but ‘unique’ is an understatement.”
Bonne nuit—though I’m not sure how soundly I’ll sleep after Titane’s motor rev. Tomorrow is Bastille Day, which never occurs during the film festival, but because it was pushed a few months due to Covid, I will get to see how those in the south of France celebrate their independence (from the throne).