2021 Cannes Film Festival Critics’ Notebook 4: Tsugua’s Diaries, Titane

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Tsugua’s diaries

The films shown at Cannes this year (especially the best) have been subject to metafiction – demonstrating and examining the process of making films, creating images, writing and rehearsing scenes, or editing the sound, setting the creative process in full screen. It’s not a new trend in art filmmaking – do what you know, love, and experience, and your livelihood is bound to bleed somehow – but self-reflexivity is clearly fashionable, and The structural puzzle film and mock making-of by Miguel Gomes and Maureen Fazendeiro Tsugua’s diaries may be the most exemplary case. True to its title, the newspaper Tsugua fictitiously dramatizes his own production, which disintegrates after a violation of health and safety protocol. On day 22 we start with an enigmatic view of three Portuguese thirtysomethings (Crista, Carloto and João) grooving on Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’ 1972 Nordic soul hit, “The Night” in a rural chalet. As in most of Gomes’ work, there is an anti-narrative attitude to the way information is conveyed; characters are introduced timidly, in media res, pretty bodies in grainy compositions featuring conflicts whose motivations can only be suggested. The image and the tone are dreamlike, filtered in green then purple then magenta, the characters repeating each other in the presence of each other within the same scene. aggravating the cognitive instability of viewers, Tsugua (i.e. the beloved month of ‘August’ spelled backwards) progresses from its opening sequence in reverse– until day 21, then the 20, the 19 and so on – the disclosure of consequences and resolutions before action.


While Christopher Nolan and Gaspar Noé used similar vanities to unveil the initial false premises of their accounts, Gomes and Fazendeiro has more relaxed and material interests. They linger, for example, on a pair of quinces in (de) composition for three weeks, the methodical (dis) assembly of a butterfly greenhouse and the cleaning of a filthy swimming pool. Unknowns abound, keep our curiosities afloat, as if the guiding couple fears that psychology will overload the process and betray the truth of the situation they represent. The emotional axis of the fiction would seem to hinge on Carloto and Crista’s doomed romance, but that is compromised when their date 11 date.apparently included in order to develop their arcis quickly hijacked by a man who complains that Carloto is wearing his socks without permission. There is a utopian bliss in the directionless, self-sufficient world these characters make for themselves, a world that the film itself wants to be a part of. As Tsugua getting closer and closer to its true beginning, the reintroduction of bodies, leadership and protocols is deliberately oppressive, then grotesque. (Gomes, playing himself, hopping in the back of a tractor which he impulsively decides to include in his film in the film, is quite endearing.) Without too much to describe, the production of the 2020 film ensures that the pandemic has a significant impact presence, and it indeed comes closest to giving shape to a trajectory that would be rather shapeless. In our return to something like normal, Tsugua suggests an alternative where we could benefit from freedoms out of order.

To this day, unfortunate comparisons between Julia Ducournau Titanium and the work of Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg (in particular his adaptation of JG Ballard in 1996, crash) are endemic. Yes, Ducournau is unequivocally a fan (she cited him and Lynch as her two major influences), the commonalities are largely cosmetic and threaten to dampen the film’s more clearly queer agenda. In truth, if I were forced to put Titanium chatting with the work of any particular filmmaker, I might find Tarantino and his cool brand of male violence much more generative, namely his stabbing against feminism in Kill Bill (2003/2004)– who undoubtedly inspired Titanium‘s “She’s not there” needle drop—and especially the mechanophile Proof of death (2007). Ducournau’s film revolves around Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), whose sexual attraction to cars is the driving force behind the story. The film opens with a prologue in which she has a titanium plate installed in her skull after barely surviving a horrific car crash-an accident she prompted by a relentless “vroum-ing” in the backseat, sending her irascible father (Bertrand Bonello in an inspired cast) and his car in free fall. Very tall, Alexia works as one of the star dancers of an automobile-themed burlesque, where she courts the newcomer of the club, Justine (Garance Marillier, leader of Ducournau’s first film, Raw). Outside of work, she also murders people with hairpicks and indulges in lustful sex with a decked out lowrider covered in flame decals.

TO Titaniumadvantage of, Ducournau favors the compulsive decision-making of the characters and the propulsive momentum of his story towards realism or any notion of credibility. This is an ostentatiously muscular production, and it draws our attention, among other stylistic choices, to its handle of spectacular and extensive tracking shots that meander through dense and overcrowded spaces; a sound mix with the bass composed well over 10; and the brutal and surprisingly visceral displays of violence inflicted on so many human torsos and faces – wounds that, significantly, are rarely, if ever, transmitted from man to woman. Dialectics abound, as a woman secretes black motor oil through a myriad of orifices, and an enraged man longs to maternally raise someone, anyone, who will pretend to be his child– woman as machine, man as mother, cultural threads crossed for both provocation and poetics. Titanium is a massively well designed film which I found both youthful and exceptionally invigorating. If that sounds drastic, it’s because these kinds of images and ideas, as they are made by a maker of the kind of Ducournau, have yet to secure that kind of funding and studio commitment.



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