“When I write, I always write about the image first,” explains French director Julia Ducournau. It’s her indelible, singular use of imagery that made her previous film, “Raw,” about a vegetarian who becomes a cannibal, a movie that led to an audience member fainting during a 2016 screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. Her same magic with the image, when words may come up short, is apparent in her follow-up, the intoxicating love story: “Titane.”
“Titane” is one of those movies where even if someone explained the plot to you, you still wouldn’t be spoiled because seeing is truly believing. In it, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), a dancing showgirl at a motor show with a titanium plate in her head and a gnarly scar above her earmarking the impact, goes on a vicious murder spree only to go in hiding as the missing son of a desperately lonely, roided firefighter, Vincent (Vincent Lindon). She purposely disfigures herself to pose as his son, and an unlikely, quasi, father-son, father-daughter bond forms. Did I mention she’s also pregnant with a low-riders baby after having sex with it?
However absurd the plot to “Titane’ might sound, you’d be making a mistake to enter the world Ducournau has created by looking purely for the ludicrous. Rather her film operates on a genuine timbre: It details the lengths we go to discover unconditional love, to feel less alone, to find beauty, even in the grotesque.
Ducournau spoke by Zoom during New York Film Festival 2021 about the casting of Vincent Lindon, filming dance, and why she used the “Macarena” to soundtrack the film’s CPR scene.
How did the writing process for “Titane” begin?
It’s really a process of connecting the dots, for months, between ideas and desires for scenes or images that are stuck in my head, or themes that I actually want to tackle. For me, it started when I was in production for “Raw.” I had been living with that film for like four or five years at the time, and I wanted to think about something else.
So I started considering the way I treated love in “Raw,” mainly between Justine (Garance Marillier) and Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella), which was actually a relationship that I really enjoyed writing. Adrien, for me, is a stellar character. He’s the sunlight of the film, and he was the easiest to write. And the love that I wrote to be unconditional and beyond any form of gender or sexuality or social construct, but because they needed each other so badly at that moment, it’s something I wanted to put in the center of my next film. At the time, however, it was kind of hard for me to talk about love, like in a very sensual or frontal way. And just thinking of that made me want to actually challenge myself and do it for the next one.
I was talking with Vincent Lindon earlier today, he mentioned that you wrote the part specifically for him. What did you see in him that made you want to write this role?
Vincent’s character in the film is the bearer of emotions. Because obviously Alexia is a character who never expresses any forms or emotion, and when she does, she does it in a silent way because she can’t speak. So basically with Vincent, I knew it was going to be the character that would be the easiest for us to relate to because we understand his journey. I mean, the guy is a father who can’t mourn his deceased son, who in a very neurotic way tries to recreate his own fantasy through Alexia, to have his son back, but his incapacity to mourn and his pain is something we can all relate to. Whereas it’s less easy to relate to Alexia.
Vincent Lindon, who I’ve known for 11 years, who is a very famous actor in France, is someone I know for having a hypersensitivity, as a friend and as an actor, that’s constantly on the surface. That made me think he would win the audience’s empathy like this. [snaps fingers] No problem. It’s so at the surface for him, it’s just one look and it’s there. He’s very impressive.