The director received the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday July 17. Julia Ducournau now becomes the second woman to receive this award on the Croisette. The most prestigious prize, awarded to “Titanium”, rewards pioneering cinema.
Death and decay, “normalized” things
Before “Titanium”, the most violent and disturbing work of the competition, this tall, 37-year-old blonde woman had already caused a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016 with her first feature film, “Grave”, a learning story of a post – cannibal teenager who revisits the horror film. “One of my goals has always been to bring genre cinema or ‘UFO’ films to mainstream festivals to stop ostracizing a section of French production”, declared Julia Ducournau. “Gender also allows us to talk about the individual and very deeply about our fears and our desires”.
“Grave” had been banned for children under 16 and had aroused unease when it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, due to the rawness of certain bloody scenes – depilation ending with the tasting of a finger or half-eaten body discovered on waking. According to Le Figaro, the broadcast of “Titanium” also caused discomfort and vomiting among the spectators. Some scenes remain in memory, such as self-mutilation of the face by the heroine who tries to make herself unrecognizable, sex scenes with cars or even a series of spectacular murders.
Nothing in this young 37-year-old director with a wise-looking physique, with an intellectual background, would however suggest at first sight such a universe, tipping at times into gore. But this daughter of cinephile doctors – a dermatologist father and a gynecologist mother – willingly finds in her childhood the origins of this fascination for the most disturbing aspects of the human body. “From a very young age, I heard my parents talk about medicine, without taboo. It was their daily life. I had my nose stuck in their books”, she said at the time of the release of “Grave”, stressing that for her, “death, decomposition were normalized”.
From Edgar Poe to Cronenberg
Influenced by the cinema of David Cronenberg, Brian de Palma, Pier Paolo Pasolini and the South Korean Na Hong-jin (“The Chaser”), this follower of genre films also says that she was marked by the famous film by horror “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, seen in secret at the age of 6, and having had his first literary emotions with Edgar Poe’s “Extraordinary Stories”.
Born in Paris, Julia Ducournau had a studious career. Having passed a literary preparatory class and a double degree in Modern Literature and English, she then turned to cinema in 2004, joining the screenplay department of La Fémis. But his first works, which already deal with physical mutations, very early reveal his obsessions.
Genre cinema is obvious to me, to talk about the body. Of the body that changes, that opens up »
Selected for the Semaine de la critique at the Cannes Film Festival, his remarkable short film “Junior” (2011), – whose heroine bears the same first name as that of “Grave”, Justine, and is played by the same actress, Garance Marillier-, thus shows the metamorphosis of a tomboyish teenager. Then comes “Mange” (2012), a TV movie made for Canal+ and already banned for children under 16, which tells the story of a former obese woman trying to get revenge on the person who harassed her in college.
“Since the Fémis and, of course, my short film ‘Junior’, genre cinema is obvious to me, to talk about the body. Body that changes, that opens up, ”she said in an interview with Télérama. “At La Fémis, I had already made a short film about a girl who scratched herself until she made a real hole in her forehead, and it was the first time that I had used special effects”. A universe that she confirms with “Titanium”, with a very neat staging.
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Cannes Film Festival: who is Julia Ducournau, second woman to win the Palme d’Or?