From Hitchcock to Macarena, the director of “Titanium” tells how monstrosity and humor feed her bodily horror
Julia Ducournau’s astonishing “Titanium” is a dangerous film, and that’s good. Just because this intense, uncompromising drama starts out as one type of movie and then turns into another. It’s more than Ducournau, who won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, knows how to mix hypnotic images and body horror while arousing tremendous emotion. Viewers will tackle it like a scab to see what’s underneath.
It’s hard to talk about the film without spoiling things, but it’s about Alexia (Agatha Rousselle in a stunning debut feature) who has a titanium plate in her head (hence the title) escapes a sticky situation in pretending to be Adrien, the missing adult son. by Vincent (Vincent Lindon), firefighter. What happens over the course of the story may defy logic, but that’s what makes the film so engaging – viewers get invested in these characters, who make some very risky decisions, to see what they do. then.
Ducournau is keeping the tremendous promise she showed in her debut feature, “Raw”, which was equally unsettling. She spoke with Salon about the vivid images and damaged bodies in “Titanium”.
There is this idea of the organic and the mechanic. Can you talk about creating visceral visuals that are difficult yet beautiful, like the scar on Alexia’s head?
The scar on Alexia’s head is something she will keep throughout the film. It was highly symbolic for many reasons. Obviously, because of the plaque underneath, but the shape of the scar must have had something to do with identity, as it is about in the movie. The scar is shaped like a spiral, a snail, which is a direct tribute to Madeleine’s bun in “Vertigo”, which is also shaped like a snail. “Vertigo” was an important reference for me here, especially through Vincent’s fantasy of being able to sculpt his own son through her and the way he models Adrien – shaving his head, his clothes, his nose, all that. This tribute was important to me. I wanted to have a modern take on the Madeleine bun on the side of Alexia’s head. But also, because Alexia has a bun all the time, that’s where she chooses.
“Titanium” features many tonal changes that keep viewers off guard, making your movie thrilling and enthralling. Can you talk about this storytelling strategy?
I like to subvert the codes of the different typologies of films, of course, body horror, but also comedy, drama and thriller. I do this because naturally, for me, it’s a good way to play with the emotions of the audience and to stay in constant contact with the point of view of my characters. Not to impose a mood but to have the change of mood with my characters. For example, in the Macarena scene, it starts off as something socially heavy and very dramatic, but all of a sudden, because the main character is watching an old lady, going off the rails, it opens the door to comedy. and that gets us out of the drama because it focuses on the lady who is clearly not doing well. Then you add the Macarena on top of it to make a very clear change that brings us to the full comedy, which I use to bond between the characters on that level. I love this. In the same way that I use different codes and typologies of films, to create my own language throughout the film, I love doing morph scenes, so we go from one emotion to another, from drama to comedy , or from comedy to horror.
Want a daily rundown of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Accelerated classes.
You also have a very particular way of filming gender, sexuality, bodies and nudity. Can you talk about the way you film the bodies here? The auto show is one style, but the scenes with Adrien are another.
For me, all the body imagery in the auto show realm is a complete draw. I try to create the stereotype that I will demystify later. In the auto show, we have an evolution that goes from something that looks like a masculine look at the dancers and when we get to Alexia, she reclaims the story by dancing with complicity with the car and looking through it. the camera. She gets the story by looking at you rather than you looking at her. It’s not relevant or very meaningful to the way I treat bodies throughout the film or in my work.
What interests me is to represent extremely trivial bodies. I do nothing to glorify them, quite the contrary. I don’t think glamor is something we can relate to at all. My goal is to make you relate to the bodies of my characters, from the perspective of your own bodily experience, but also in the way you look at your own body. We are never satisfied with our bodies like most people are all the time, and that creates a bond between us. I tried to create this same bond with my characters. Not all of my characters’ bodies are pleasing to the eye; they are damaged and often painful. They open up, they lose their skin. It’s not glamorous, but I think in its triviality and in its, say, almost monstrous, we can relate to it. I think we can’t relate to perfection or perfect bodies, but we can relate to every imperfection we see on someone else’s body. I find it incredibly endearing.
The film will definitely test the pain threshold for viewers. As if “Raw” hadn’t done it! What can you say about creating footage featuring people in pain, sometimes with their own hands?
It’s not like I have an agenda: “I’m going to hurt my characters and I’m going to make you watch.” The specific scene where Alexia changes her appearance, there’s something here that’s essential for me to make you feel how far she’ll go to leave her old skin behind. I needed to do this because Alexia is an unrelated character. She feels no emotion, she is closer to a machine than to a human being. It makes her someone that we can’t feel in your heart or your head, but I want you to feel for her in your body. If you can’t figure it out, that you will leave because you don’t understand the story or the character, you are not interested in seeing where it is going. My entry point is his body. What she does to him to make you feel that immediate bodily empathy is the same as if you saw someone break their legs in real life. You might not have had your legs broken, but you know it’s painful because you have that immediate bodily empathy that binds us all together. This is my point of entry into the character.
“Titanium” is currently in theaters.