EXCLUSIVE: Julia Ducournau, Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon received a five-minute standing ovation after the premiere of Ducournau’s second feature film. Titanium at the 57th Annual York Film Festival. I could see the emotion flooding the trio from where I was sitting, as they were overwhelmed by the moment.
The next day, I entered the Le Méridien hotel to chat with Ducournau and Rousselle. I couldn’t wait to hear what was going through their heads when I saw the crowd going crazy during the screening. The sculptural Ducournau and a wide-eyed Rouselle are both decked out, dressed in black from head to toe. Seeing previous photos of the two together in Cannes, black seems to be their favorite color.
“New York is my favorite city in the world! said Rouselle.
Doucounau adds: “I felt such love last night in New York. For me it was like being in Cannes again.
Cannes 2016 is where it all started for Docournau. Raw, a film about academia and cannibalism, was his first feature film at International Critics’ Week, winning the FIPRESCI Prize. An impressive accomplishment for a newcomer. His second film, Titanium, entered directly into the main competition and won Cannes’ highest distinction: the Palme d’Or. What makes this film so deserving of recognition is its intriguing premise, where Ducournau explores the unconditional nature of violent women.
Asked about the intersection of women and their violent nature, her smile deflates and turns serious.
“I think my reasoning for continuing to write and explore women in this way is a very valid reaction. Unfortunately anchored in a reality that men and women do not have the same apprehension of public space.
I had to think about what she was saying, and I got it. Ducournau isn’t talking about the sex that commits the most violent crime, but why are women never seen as the culprits in heinous scenarios? This gender separation and the perception of social violence and who can inflict it makes Ducournau angry, which is why Titanium exist.
The film follows Alexia, an absolute threat to society. As a child with a strange affinity for cars, a car crash caused a titanium plate to form inside his skull. The film deliberately ambiguates the source of his insanity, but the result is that the woman is a psychopathic serial killer. After a series of murders, one of his victims runs away and reports Alexia to the police, and the main character has to flee.
From Cannes, we talk about of titanium Chances at the Oscars. Rarely does the ceremony embrace a concept as bizarre as this. Anyway, Doucournau tells me that she prefers to talk about her film. She put her anger, heart, and soul into this movie, and I don’t blame her for focusing on her job rather than discussing everything rewards-related.
I sat down with Ducournau and Rouselle to talk about Titanium, violent women and how the film empathizes with its audience.
Deadline: Julia, what’s the first movie you can remember that empowered you in a way where a female character was daring, daring and violent?
Ducournau: It’s inside Cried Cuervos, by Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura. It tells the story of eight-year-old Ana who has a hard time mourning the death of her mother. I first saw her when I was eight (the same age as the character.) In order to cope with the grief, she begins to have violent thoughts about the adults around her, including the new one. mistress of his father and aunts.
What I love about this movie is that it doesn’t describe childhood as happiness or the best time of your life, or anything innocent. Ana is far from innocent. She is well aware of all the innuendoes of adults and what is hidden from her. The way she is treated like she can’t figure things out makes her even angrier. It’s not graphic in the sense of gore, but there is a poetic and melancholy feel to and certainly the first one I can remember where I felt that identification was a movie character.
Deadline: the film Junior begins with a teenage high school student, then the second Raw movie is about a young adult in college. Then, Titanium explores the life of a person in their early 30s. Is there a model where you explore topics across age groups?
Ducournau: It’s true that I like to install a form of filiation between my films, to make it a kind of continuous gesture. It makes sense to me to have this evolution between characters because they have similar names that sort of mutate from movie to movie. I definitely consider them to be different forms of the same character.
Deadline: Your films manage to give violent characters an empathetic edge. How did you conceptualize this for Alexia in Titanium?
Ducournau: Writing to Alexia has not been easy for me because theoretically she says something about my own anger, but in fact, I cannot relate to her because she is a psychopath, and it is difficult to understand. ‘identify with someone who shows no emotion. It made me wonder, if there is only one way to relate to a main character that is obviously not likeable as she is, how can I get the opposite? So I thought if I couldn’t empathize with her mind, then I’m going to try and create some form of physical empathy for her body, which means the audience is going to feel what she’s feeling.
Deadline: Speaking of the character, Agathe, how did you get into violent headspace for this?
Rousselle: I watched everything online to find out more about psychopaths. Like archival interviews with Ted Bundy, Ed Kemper and other serial killers and TED Talks on psychopathy. Movies like Monster, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Crash, to understand what it looks like and what it looks like. I searched for everything I could find to understand how they work from the mind that I cannot relate to.
Did you learn something that surprised you?
Rousselle: Psychopaths are incapable of feeling, but are intelligent enough to imitate what they think they are supposed to feel. They may change expression, but the eyes are always completely blank. If you watch interviews with Ed Kemper, he’s probably the best at it because he’s a very charming character. But then, if you look into his eyes, the lights are completely out. There is nothing here. No light. Nothing.
Deadline: Julia, earlier we talked about empathy but how do you also manage to make your characters redeemable?
Ducournau: The film remains at a very physical POV level of her pain. I think that’s what kind of guides us towards broadening its spectrum. Leading us to the moment when the public perceives the first signs of emotion. It is something that we can understand. And by that, I don’t even mean when Vincent arrives, I think his emotional moment comes earlier than that and I think it’s during the home killing. You empathize with her for the first time through her physical fatigue and through her fatigue, and the fact that she is no longer in control.
Since the physical component was so important to Alexia’s character development, especially in the scene Julia just described, as an actress, how did you seize the opportunity and prepare yourself physically? for the role?
Rousselle: It’s really quite simple because I had a fairly classic training session with a coach to gain muscle and lose weight. I had to train with a dancer, who is actually a pole dancer, and practice the stunts. It was for the physical aspect.
Deadline: This is a very big question, but what do you think about the state of violence and women in cinema in general?
Ducournau: I think it remained something that is quite difficult to accept. I think it feels a lot more unnatural and goes against nature to those who watch it. Often times, the urge for violence often comes from male characters. For me, it is a form of denial because violence is not the monopoly of men.
It’s a questioning of sexual constructs, but showing the duality that men and women can exist in this space broadens the spectrum of what humanity really is. When I say humanity, I mean specifically gender and gender constraints. The very idea of social constructs is irrelevant, is wrong, and limits our understanding of the interaction or potential relationship we can have with others and the relationships we can have with things like violence. So you see how damaging it is.
Deadline: Agathe, what does this mean for you?
Rousselle: I think we are running out of female characters who can be violent and strong, and can kill men, without them suffering from prior affliction. I want to see films where women are independent, don’t give a damn, capable of turning violence into violence. My go-to for this is David Fincher’s Gone Girl. Amy Dunne is an attractive woman with a seemingly normal life, but we find out that she shouldn’t be fucked. Amy’s calm, intelligent, and resilient demeanor is what makes her so scary and unpredictable. I think we need more women who are capable of such atrocities and who are not afraid to let them direct movies. Let women be dangerous.
Titanium is currently in theaters in New York and LA since October 1.