It is almost 23:00 on Saturday when Julia Ducournau (Paris, 37 years old) arrives in the press conference room at the Cannes festival. Accompanied by Agathe Rousselle, the leading actress of her second feature film, Titanium, and Vincent Lindon, another interpreter, whom she describes as a great friend, the director carries a box containing the Palme d’Or. She is the second filmmaker to obtain it in the history of the contest, after Jane Campion (The piano) in 1993, although the New Zealander shared it with Cheng Kaige (Goodbye to my concubine). “I really believe that my film has not been judged by my genre,” he warns. An hour earlier, in that same room, the jury, chaired by Spike Lee, had explained that all the films were debated without regard to who was directing them. Only after deciding that it was going to be the Palme d’Or did they realize the historic moment they were going to provoke. “My intention is that people understand that the question of gender is irrelevant. Identity is totally something that each one builds ”, underlines the creator, who on the one hand supports the 50/50 movement in search of parity in the world of cinema, and on the other hand she repeats:“ I hope the award has nothing to do with it. with it being a woman ”.
In a historic Cannes, that of the 5,000 daily spits for antigen tests, that of 24 films in the Competition (there were never so many), the edition that tried to overcome the covid-19, that of the first black president of the jury, Lee, the closing ceremony, with its chaos, was up to the task. The blunder of the American filmmaker, by skipping the order and announcing at the beginning of the gala that Titanium had won the Palme d’Or, instead of waiting for the natural order of reading the record, it caused Ducournau to live in a sea of nerves for half an hour: had he really achieved the Palm? She explains little about that time, but it did give her time to think that she was “brutally moved” by the films made by creators with previous Palmas de Oro, and in the fate of Jane Campion. “I have thought about the pressure he had to endure, what they had to say to him. I just hope there is a third La Palma winner, a fourth, a fifth … ”.
She cries when she remembers that just a decade ago she was awarded at Critics’ Week for her short Junior, And through tears she confesses: “Yes, my films have flaws, but I am proud of myself.” Ducournau takes the opportunity to repeat part of his speech on the stage of the Lumière room: “The monstrosity scares some and cuts through my work, because it is a weapon to attack the normative walls that separate us.” And about his cinema, he assures: “It is never difficult to be free, you have to fight as a filmmaker. Freedom can only be obtained from within, and you have to fight for it ”.
Days before, last Thursday, Ducournau spoke with a group of journalists from around the world. He was forceful as well as kind in his ways, he detailed his answers in a neat way and his English, far from the usual French accent, emphasized that he studied dramatic writing at Columbia University (New York), with the prestigious playwright Israël Horovitz . His Titanium, starring a serial killer who gets pregnant with a car and ends up posing as a missing boy in order to hide, has burst the Official section of Cannes and divided the public. The film insists on leaving behind the cinematographic genres, on abandoning the references to Crash, by Cronenberg, or to the most punk visual horror, in going beyond the parts gore from the director’s first film, Raw (2016). “I was very interested at the beginning in filming car parts as if they were parts of a human body,” she explains, “but it is purely visual, I don’t even have a driving license.
The constant feeling of being a possible victim
The filmmaker avoids the fetishistic aspect: “It doesn’t go that way. I wanted the engine to be seen, to feel the possibility that it was a human organ. That the viewer saw it almost as a sensory experience. The body is an element that unites humanity, makes us be and at the same time creates our vulnerability. That is why the camera is glued to the actors. I tried to be more graphic and push the limits ”. Hence that “comic” visual imagery, with many saturated colors, metal pieces, and various nods to titanium that baptizes his work. The film has shaken Cannes, in a way that the director expected, but with some qualifications that she rejects: “I hate provocation. Provoke by provocation is not going anywhere. I want to remove consciences, to bet because we do not forget that the monstrous is part of the human being ”.
“The monstrous is part of the human being”
Ducournau delves into the premise that moves Titanium: “The idea was to expose the stereotypes, show what they are like and then destroy them.” Hence the opening sequence of the film: Alexia makes a living dancing at conventions in the automobile industry; a dance that will be repeated, with her posing as a man, in front of a fire department in the park where Vincent (Vincent Lindon) works. “The sexual archetypes are a corset, many of us think they are old.” It is Titanium a fairy tale for modern times? “I would rather talk about exploring myths. And the Greeks interest me a lot. Titanium it’s titanium [Alexia lleva una placa de ese metal en la cabeza tras un accidente automovilístico de niña] and it also refers to the titans, the giants who tried to storm the skies, like her. In French, adding the e to the end of the word feminizes it, and that seemed very useful to me ”. Although in the end he humanizes his script: “Deep down everything I wanted to do with Titanium it was a love story, that’s what it means to me and what I was thinking about while writing ”.
And in the end she claims the importance of a powerful femininity: “She is a serial killer, of course. No doubt. But when we see such a woman on screen, many feel upset. Look, every time a woman goes out into the street, she feels something of fear. Ask them how they feel when they come home at night, when you run into a guy at dawn at night on the subway. We have a huge problem of different perception of public space between men and women. I am deeply outraged by that mark that women carry on the back of a predesignated victim. To a greater or lesser extent, we have all felt that ”.