Cannes, France: Cannes was punch-drunk from a wild, violent, and sexy French shocker on Wednesday with critics unsure if they had witnessed the birth of a genre or the worst flop in years.
“Titane” by French director Julia Ducournau tells the story of a young woman who has sex with cars, kills without care, and pretends to be a boy despite being pregnant by a vintage Cadillac. Not the most common of plots.
Ultra-violent scenes had some cinema-goers shield their eyes at the film’s early festival screenings, as sharp intakes of breath alternated with nervous giggles. The movie still won a long-standing ovation on its opening night on Tuesday.
Acknowledging that some scenes were difficult to watch, Ducournau told reporters that even the goriest bits had narrative meaning. “I hate gratuitous violence, I really do,” she said.
The film drew some flattering comparisons with “Crash” by David Cronenberg — another controversial look at driving and eroticism — and “Blue Velvet” by David Lynch, both of which became instant classics after premiering in Cannes.
The Hollywood Reporter said the movie, which is competing for the Palme d’Or, might herald a “French-Punk-Queer Wave”, while IndieWire said it was “one of the wildest films ever to screen at Cannes”.
‘A desire for metal’
Others clearly hated “Titane”.
The Guardian newspaper called it a “car crash” because of its “sheer silliness and towering pointlessness”, French paper Liberation said the storyline was “pretty much inarticulate” and Switzerland’s Le Temps wondered what the film-maker had meant by her “pretentious” offering.
While some felt let down by the French director — whose cannibalistic debut “Raw” delighted critics a few years ago — others gave her full marks.
“Ducournau breaks all the rules, to our greatest pleasure,” gushed French magazine Les Inrockuptibles. “Her furious film is like no other.”
The director herself said she felt “a lot of anger” while writing the film.
“Trump had just been elected, and the world was not a happy place,” she told AFP in an interview.
“I was very pessimistic about the future and about a society that has no room for fluidity, transformation, for change and inclusiveness,” she said, adding: “There was also a desire for metal and skin that I can’t really explain.”
The main character is played by newcomer Agathe Rousselle.
She stars alongside French veteran Vincent Lindon, her surrogate dad in the movie, who told reporters that lifting weights every day for two years for his role as buff fire brigade commander had been “the biggest risk I took for the role because I am 62”.
Lindon, who won Cannes’ best actor award in 2015, said working with Ducournau had taught him “to let go”, making him “a better actor and a better man”.
Both characters are broken, their lives “scorched earth”, said Ducournau.
“To show how love and humanity are born, I had to take that scorched earth and make it blossom like light makes the darkness blossom,” the director said. “The film is a film about love, about unconditional love.”
“Titane” is among 24 films competing for the Palme d’Or, to be awarded on Saturday.