Movie-maker Julia Ducournau: ‘Ladies kicked critical ass this yr’ | Movie

“When I see a stereotype,” says French director Julia Ducournau, “I attempt to kill it.” She actually did that in July by successful the highest prize on the Cannes movie competition. Essentially the most revered and exalted award in cinema, a world away from the erratic glossiness of the Oscars, the Palme d’Or tends to honour movies that each additional the language of cinema and make clear the loftier questions of earthly existence. You anticipate humanism, seriousness, maybe a splash of issue. What you don’t anticipate is in-your-face sexuality, serial slaughter, a ferocious, electrically colored techno-metal aesthetic – and radical DIY nasal surgical procedure.

However that’s what you get in Ducournau’s Titane – solely the second Palme d’Or winner by a feminine director, the primary being Jane Campion’s shared win with The Piano in 1993. Her win, says Ducournau in transatlantically inflected English, “was extremely highly effective to me. Via this prize, loads was taking place. It took 28 years [since Campion’s win] and I imagine it’s not going to take 28 years once more.” She factors to 2021’s award successes for girls – Chloé Zhao on the Oscars with Nomadland, Venice winner Audrey Diwan (Occurring), Romania’s Alina Grigore in San Sebastián (Blue Moon). “That may’t be appeared previous. Ladies kicked critical ass this yr.”

When Spike Lee’s jury gave Titane the Palme, Ducournau thanked them for “recognising our hungry, visceral want for a extra inclusive and fluid world, and for letting monsters in”. Titane is a visceral monster certainly – a shapeshifting, wildly kinetic, typically downright deranged mix of thriller, nightmare horror and futuristic black comedy. “Titane” is French for the metallic titanium (it could additionally imply a feminine titan), and the movie has a metallic hardness all through, in its look, its music, its heroine’s nine-inch-nails manner.

Ducournau exudes imposing assurance, and initiatives a considerably metallic look herself, a Vogue-cover glamour suggestive of an experimental rock chanteuse or a Russian tech billionaire, her fingers studded liberally with rings.

Ducournau with Titane stars Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon after successful the Palme d’Or at Cannes, July 2021. {Photograph}: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Pictures

Titane, I recommend, is significantly much less respectable than you’d think about a Palme d’Or winner to be (however Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in 1994) – not your anticipated sober, looking take a look at humanity. “I really feel that my movie talks about humanity very a lot,” Ducournau insists. “It’s the solely factor it talks about.”

Titane’s heroine is a younger lady named Alexia who has a metallic plate in her head, makes a residing doing raunchy dancing at automobile reveals, and in addition kills individuals. Operating from the legislation, she masquerades because the misplaced son of a firefighter, with whom she types a tense, tender relationship. Beneath its layers of frenzied extra, Ducournau sees Titane as a love story between the pair. “There’s one thing pure and absolute about their love that emerges, past all of the representations and lies and social constructs that we’ve been by means of within the movie.”

Alexia is performed by Agathe Rousselle, an intense-eyed newcomer with extraordinary, sharp-edged facial options: her presence is unnerving and ambiguous, directly embodying vulnerability and all-out feral depth. Rousselle herself has described Alexia as a psychopath, though, Ducournau says: “There’s a lot extra gray zone about this character.” Wanting somebody unfamiliar within the position, she set out on a seek for androgynous faces; it was her casting director who found Rousselle on Instagram. “Of all of the individuals I’d seen,” Ducournau says, “she was the one I wished to movie probably the most. I knew that her facial angles would rework each time I put my digicam someplace round her, that I’d not get the identical particular person.”

Rousselle can also be very scary, I say. Ducournau appears puzzled. You imply, as a result of I’m scary as properly?”

I didn’t say you had been scary.

“You stated, ‘additionally’.”

No, I meant Rousselle is angular, and in addition scary. Do individuals inform you you’re scary? Ducournau laughs. “I don’t suppose I’m, truly. Assured perhaps, however not that.”

Assured she actually is. Sufficient to inform Titane’s co-star Vincent Lindon – one in every of French cinema’s most outstanding male leads – that he must utterly rework his physique for the position of fireplace chief Vincent. That concerned committing to 2 years of weight coaching – in his early 60s, at that. After I earlier requested Lindon about Ducournau, he made her sound, if not scary, actually formidable. “She’s smug, and irresistible, like the good generals, like Napoleon. You need to give her every part. I stated: ‘I offer you my mind, my coronary heart, my physique, I belief you, do what you need.’” It appears like inflated actorly rhetoric, however whenever you see how far Titane takes Lindon from acquainted territory – he’s extra usually seen in downbeat roles, embodying careworn, bourgeois disaster – then you definitely see he’s not joking.

Born in Paris, Ducournau, 38, is the daughter of docs – her mom a gynaecologist, her father a dermatologist. The within and the skin, I say. She offers me a glance of disapproval. “No, that’s a gross remark. It’s in regards to the particular person. They all the time advised me that there’s one case per affected person, that everybody reacts otherwise, everybody – and it’s extremely humane to say that.”

Agathe Rousselle as Alexia in Titane.
Agathe Rousselle as Alexia in Titane: ‘If I present you one thing, it’s actually taking place,’ says Ducournau. {Photograph}: BFA/Alamy

She studied on the Sorbonne and at elite French movie faculty La Fémis, locations that presumably require a point of confidence. “Oh my God, that’s so humorous! I by no means noticed the Sorbonne as someplace you needed to be very assured in. There’s no manner you’ll be able to obtain something by not being in fixed, utter, painful doubt – particularly in my job. Directing is just about making selections on a regular basis – on a regular basis, selections, selections – and you need to work together with your intuition loads. That doesn’t imply it goes with confidence – it implies that I’m gonna go there and I’m gonna make it work, it doesn’t matter what.”

You possibly can’t simply think about Ducournau dropping her cool, however she admits she’s nervous about that night’s London movie competition screening of Titane. “I’m dreading it. I’m so scared that I’m gonna get booed or one thing. At each single screening, this is without doubt one of the fears that I’ve.”

And has it ever occurred?

“By no means.”

Individuals might not have booed her movies, however they’ve allegedly fainted. Together with her 2016 debut function, Uncooked, Ducournau appeared to burst into existence absolutely fashioned, with a completely singular voice. Actually, she had beforehand made a mark with her 2011 brief Junior, a couple of woman going by means of adolescent shifts of gender identification, a course of involving a lot peeling and dripping prosthetic pores and skin. Uncooked scooped quite a few prizes, at Cannes and elsewhere, together with London movie competition’s Sutherland award for finest first movie. A coming-of-age drama steeped in blood, carnality and savage humour, it was a couple of veterinary pupil who discovers her interior cannibal. It was a triumphant outlier at a time when France’s cinema appeared to have drifted away from the so-called “new French extremity” of the flip of the century, embodied by Gaspar Noé, Claire Denis’s gore-soaked Hassle Each Day and Marina de Van’s extraordinarily weird body-horror drama In My Pores and skin.

Ducournau’s creativeness may come throughout as blackly morbid, however what she does is just pure to her, she insists.

“Every part comes from one thing very private – I’m not going to inform you what, however I can inform you that I’m all over the place in my movies. None of them are autobiographical, however it all stems from one thing that I’ve in me.

“Every part I do comes from such a deep, honest and loving place in me – it additionally clearly has my power. If we acquired to hang around tonight and have a drink, it could in all probability really feel it matches what you see within the movie as a result of I’ve a number of power to spare.”

Given how aggressively her movies rattle viewers sensibilities, you wonder if they strictly come from such a loving place in the direction of her viewers. To take a blunt instance, there’s the ruthlessly confrontational scene in Titane during which Alexia, working from the legislation, decides to change the form of her face, in an act of guerrilla auto-rhinoplasty that might make the hardest viewers blanch.

“Do you realise that in that sequence you don’t see something?” Ducournau says. “You don’t see something. For me that’s a complete achievement. All is about how I make you anticipate the worst, and since I plant this concept in your head, you’ll be able to truly get to really feel her ache.”

Certainly, we might not see something in any respect, as a result of we could also be flinching away from the display screen. Mainly, then, that is her model of the bathe scene in Psycho, all modifying and suggestion? “Yeah. Hitchcock was truly essential within the making of Titane. Not Psycho, however Vertigo was a giant reference.”

Ducournau sees her Cannes win, amongst different issues, as a blow struck for style cinema – and perhaps it’s vital within the case of Titane that the French phrase style means each “style” and “gender”. “The great factor about this prize is that it acknowledges that utilizing style, you could be very a lot in contact with what it means to be human. It was one thing that was frowned upon for a really very long time – style motion pictures may solely exist although their shock worth, solely be a distinct segment. I’m very glad that this prize reveals the alternative of that.”

Garance Marillier in Ducournau’s 2016 break-out horror, Raw.
Garance Marillier in Ducournau’s 2016 break-out horror, Uncooked. {Photograph}: AA Movie Archive/Alamy

A dedicated horror aficionado, Ducournau noticed the notoriously nightmarish The Texas Chain Noticed Bloodbath on the age of six, when she got here throughout it by probability on TV. “I don’t suppose I felt loads after I noticed it. It didn’t traumatise me on the time.” If it sounds just like the type of primal second that may have fashioned her creativeness, it wasn’t, she says. “I believe studying Edgar Allan Poe was a second for me that opened an area in my thoughts, however not this – it was too by probability.”

What does she search for watching horror now? “Actually, I look to be scared – however I’m by no means scared. I was and I beloved it, however whenever you get to be a director, you already know precisely how issues are made. You take a look at every part and also you analyse every part – the sound, the results, the actors, the digicam angles. It doesn’t damage the expertise of cinema for you, however it makes it actually very totally different – it’s very laborious for me now both to be scared or really to be moved.”

Directing hasn’t utterly cauterised her sensibilities, although. Not too long ago, Thomas Vinterberg’s One other Spherical moved her to tears; she loves the director, she says, as a result of he’s a grasp of that “gray zone” she values. She additionally enthuses in regards to the present increase in feminine horror; she significantly charges British movies by Rose Glass (Saint Maud) and Alice Lowe (Prevenge). For her, feminine horror is “a horror that comes from the within. With most male administrators, it’s one thing that comes from outdoors, that assaults you. For ladies, it comes from one thing that has extra to do with identification. In each day life, as a lady, you might be so usually subjected to outdoors assaults that it creates shifts in your personal identification.

“I believe there’s a violence that could be very particular to feminine film-makers, so far as horror is worried – a violence that’s inside, not a violence you need to combat, a violence you need to deal with inside your self. This inside-outside factor makes the entire distinction.”

It’s tough to classify Titane as feminine horror per se as a result of the movie is a lot about subverting gender stabilities. With protagonist Alexia later changing into Adrien, the movie has inevitably been learn as a trans drama, however Ducournau appears shocked by the suggestion. “What? Oh my God! My character just isn’t transgender – is this what you perceive? It positively talks about being fluid in our understanding of gender. For me, it was actually to do with with the ability to shed any illustration or social assemble that goes with gender.”

Gender just isn’t the one preconception that Titane challenges – borders additionally crash down between the human and the mechanical. I point out the scene the place Alexia seems to have intercourse with a automobile…

“She doesn’t seem to,” Ducournau says, with manifest impatience, “She does have intercourse with the automobile. I believe it’s fairly clear by the tip of the movie.”

I’m stunned she’s so categorical about this, given her insistence on the “gray zone”. That is exactly the second in Titane the place we ask ourselves if we actually noticed what we noticed. However Ducournau is adamant. In her work, what you see – nonetheless outre – is what you get.

“That is the universe I create, and these are the foundations of that universe. So sure, she very a lot does. Is there any doubt about that?

“If I present you one thing, it’s actually taking place.”

Ducournau is now a bona fide auteur star, however she’s immune to changing into public property and could be very guarded about her private life. “Who cares what I do each day, or what I’m, or no matter. The one factor that counts is the artwork, my movies – they’re my solely true manner of expressing myself, and after that, I’ve stated all of it. After which you take it, and also you make it your personal – and that’s how we talk.”

Ducournau has already had one US expertise: earlier than taking pictures Titane, she directed two episodes of the TV sequence Servant for M Evening Shyamalan. Little question the Hollywood provides have been coming in since Cannes, however Ducournau has been so busy selling the movie within the US and elsewhere, “I don’t even have time to name my agent.” Now France has audaciously named Titane because the nation’s official submission to the Oscars. You possibly can solely think about the palpitations it could give the famously conservative Academy voters. Set off warnings could also be so as, particularly for anybody who’s had a nostril job.

Titane is in cinemas on 31 December

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