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Posts Tagged ‘Vincent Lindon’

Normally at this time of year you can rely on some worthy, solid, essentially safe and wholesome big movies to come out, as we begin the run-up to awards season – grand studio historical epics, biopics of the great and politically acceptable, you know the sort of thing. Maybe we’re still dealing with the long tail of the pandemic, but it seems to me there’s very little of that ilk doing the rounds – the big franchise movies from Christmas are still hanging around, along with West Side Story (this is exactly the sort of film I would usually expect to get a New Year release, but it came out in early December for some reason).

Perhaps for this reason, the arrival of a few more challenging and experimental movies in January feels like more of a strict detox than usual, and no cinematic experience currently available in cinemas is more bracingly astringent than Julia Ducournau’s Titane (in English, Titanium), winner of the Golden Palm in Cannes last summer.

Ducournau caused a bit of a stir a while back with the release of Raw, almost certainly the best French-language feminist cannibal social allegory of recent years. The new movie is bolder and more eye-opening in every way, but still recognisably the product of the same sensibility.

Here I find myself somewhat torn – it’s clear that Titane has been carefully assembled with the intention that it will have a certain impact upon the unsuspecting viewer. Going into too much detail about the film, certainly its opening movement, will almost certainly lessen some of that impact. But how to talk about it intelligibly otherwise? Hmmm.

Well: throbbing metal certainly features prominently, usually closely juxtaposed with all-too-icky human flesh – this finds its fullest expression in a sequence at a rather grim, toxically masculine car-show, with the toned and slender forms of the dancers undulating around and across the less yielding but equally enticing bodywork of the vehicles. The movie has a sort of auto-erotic fixation which has led many critics to compare it to the work of David Cronenberg.

Progressing alongside this is an equally provocative but seemingly more human storyline about a troubled young woman named Alexia (Agathe Rouselle). Finding herself needing to drop out of sight rather urgently, she takes the unusual step of disguising herself as someone who disappeared ten years earlier and claiming to be them, inexplicably reappeared. It struck me that this was possibly inspired by the real-life case of Frederic Bourdin’s impersonation of the missing Nicholas Barclay in 1997, but the movie ups the ante a bit by having Alexia choose to steal the identity of a young man named Adrien.

Here, if not earlier (and, to be honest, it probably was earlier), the film casts loose from the anchor of reality in a way likely to challenge most viewers. Adrien’s father Vincent (Vincent Lindon) turns up and is allowed to take Alexia home with him that very night. She has clearly received only the most cursory of medical examinations (for reasons which should be obvious), despite being in obvious need of attention, and throughout the rest of the film the police show no interest in questioning ‘Adrien’ about what happened to him or where he’s been for the last decade. It is, in short, not remotely credible as a naturalistic piece of storytelling – but then by this point we have already had a sequence in which someone has sex with a car (that preposition is not a typo), so you could certainly argue that Titane parts company with naturalism and credibility very early on.

This continues, as we learn more about Vincent’s job as the local fire captain. The fire departments of southern France seem to be run rather like feudal seigneuries, based on this film: Vincent announces to the other firemen that ‘Adrien’ will be joining the crew, despite not having interviewed for the job and not having any proper references – I believe this is known as le nepotisme in France. Slowly, the twisted relationship between Alexia and Vincent develops – but it’s obvious that this state of affairs can’t last…

This warped psycho-drama isn’t a million miles away from the kind of thing I could imagine appearing in a drama by someone like Almodovar, but this is very clearly a horror movie, and an uncompromising one. The opening movement is a succession of set pieces which seem designed to provoke a visceral response from the audience. I went along to the lunchtime showing at my local cinema and, as you would, took my lunch. When it seemed like the film had finally calmed down a bit, I relaxed and reached for my bag.

In the time it took me to eat a couple of sandwiches and a biscuit, the film managed to cram in a sado-masochistic lesbian sex scene, someone doing something incredibly icky and intimate to themself with a knitting needle, three graphically violent murders, and two semi-naked women grappling almost unto the death. This was some going. I should also mention that the film features as a motif grisly things happening in bathrooms – almost to the point where just the sight of a tap made me rather twitchy.

I’m probably making it sound like Titane is nothing more than a violent assault on the senses with only a perfunctory excuse for a plot to hold the various set-pieces together – almost like an art house, critically-acclaimed version of a film like Hellraiser II. As noted, it is openly and intentionally non-naturalistic in its plotting, and downright surreal and fantastical in some of its story elements. But there is more to it than just provocation and a desire to shock; it deals seriously with issues of identity, gender, and grief; in a weird way it is a much more humane film than it probably sounds. The performances from Rouselle and Lindon are remarkable – Garance Marillier from Raw has a supporting role on this occasion. (There is also a carefully-deployed element of black comedy which pops up at the moments you would least expect.) Nevertheless, it is a movie that many people will likely find too repellent and extreme to fully engage with. For everyone else, this is a startling, powerful, and memorable film.

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The Phoenix in Oxford is officially in the middle of a Hitchcock season at the moment (Psycho this coming Sunday, Vertigo the week after that), but if one didn’t know better one might suspect that the cinema’s film booker was quietly running another, unofficial season at the same time: this week the place is showing not two but three films with a religious theme to them. (I enjoy a revival as much as anyone else, but not usually in this sense of the word.)

Yes, this week, currently showing at a cinema near – well, likely not you, but certainly me – is First Reformed (previously discussed hereabouts), Apostasy (a British drama about life in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses), and finally Xavier Giannoli’s The Apparition (titre Francais: L’Apparition), which will be our main focus on this occasion.

Vincent Lindon plays Jacques Mayano, who as the film opens is a deeply traumatised figure: we first find him hunched in a hotel bedroom, somewhere in the Middle East, clutching a battered and bloody camera. The situation soon becomes clear: Mayano is a war reporter, and his photographer colleague has recently been killed in action. Mayano is consumed by grief and guilt, and upon his return home to France shows every sign of being in the throes of some kind of psychological breakdown.

Then a message comes, from the Vatican no less. He is invited for a confidential meeting with one of the cardinals there. The Catholic Church has a job for Mayano, if he is prepared to take it on: a young girl in rural France claims to have been visited by an apparition of the Virgin Mary, and has attracted a dedicated following of pilgrims and other believers as a result. The girl is named Anna (she is played by Galatea Belugi) and she is a novice in the local convent. Her local priest (Patrick D’Assumcao) is a rebellious type and not being especially cooperative with the Holy Office, who generally like to keep a lid on this sort of thing, at least until it can be authenticated (Mayano is told that the Church would prefer to let a genuine case of a supernatural manifestation languish in obscurity than give publicity to something that might be fraudulent).

And authentication, or not, is what is on the cards for this particular phenomenon. How does this involve Mayano? Well, the Church would like him to participate in the process, essentially being lead investigator for the assessment panel (which also includes a psychiatrist, a priest from the local diocese, a theologian, and so on). More out of curiosity than anything else (or so it is implied), Mayano takes the job – but as he gets to know Anna and the other principals in the case, he finds himself being more deeply affected than he had anticipated – especially when it seems there may be a connection between Anna’s supposed visions and his own recent trauma…

I saw Xavier Giannoli’s previous film, Marguerite, a couple of years ago, and was rather blown away by it: a very subtle and impressive piece of work, especially in the understated shifts in tone which see a film that begins as a smart comedy end as a genuinely moving and rather tragic drama. His name rang a vague bell when I saw it on the poster for The Apparition, but I didn’t put two and two together until after seeing the film – I have to say this is probably just as well, as it would only have raised my expectations for the new movie.

As it is, The Apparition gets off to a notably assured and compelling start, detailing Mayano’s personal situation and then his summons to Rome. This all plays rather like a more naturalistic and credible version of something that Dan Brown might write, with the understated way that various church officials discuss extraordinary phenomena only adding to the impression that the film makes. You are left genuinely wrong-footed and unsure of just which way the film is going to go as it proceeds – is this going to be a slightly arty drama about Mayano’s own personal issues? Some kind of paranormal mystery, with a touch of the theological about it? Or a more conventional thriller, exploring some of the murky backstory of Anna’s visions of the Virgin?

Well, if I say that even at the end of the film, I wasn’t entirely sure which way the film had gone, you may get some idea of the problems with which The Apparition is saddled: it has a great opening, to be sure, but by about halfway through it has lost most of its momentum and cuts back and forth between a number of plotlines, with no great sense of this being a film which is in a hurry to go anywhere in a hurry. Indeed, ‘hurry’ is definitely not the word, for The Apparition is knocking on the door of being two and a half hours’ long, and this is frankly just too much. The story wanders off on odd tangents and explores obscure subplots, but there’s not much sense of anyone being in command of the narrative. When I say that by the end of the film I still wasn’t entirely clear if anyone had genuinely seen the Virgin Mary or not, and what this might mean, you may get some idea of how impenetrable the film becomes – not because it’s difficult to follow what’s going on from scene to scene, but because it’s clearly all supposed to mean something but it’s very difficult to tell what. You’re in no doubt as to Mayano’s mental state as the film concludes, but you have no real sense of it yourself, nor any real understanding of why he’s feeling this way.

Now, it would be remiss of me to suggest that there’s nothing of interest going on here at all: Giannoli takes a balanced view of the Church, comparing the genuine faith and decency of some adherents and members of the hierarchy with the willingness of others to exploit Anna for her visions, and puts this across with a light touch. The film also benefits enormously from two tremendous performances from the two leads – Lindon does just enough to suggest that beneath the surface of his world-weary journalist is a man who may actually want to believe in something greater, while Galatea Belugi is astonishingly self-assured in a very demanding role as the young devotee: I suspect she may very well be going places.

However, if so it will almost certainly be in vehicles which are better assembled than The Apparition. There is enough good stuff here for me to put it in the pile marked ‘Creditable Misfire’, and one certainly gets the impression that Giannoli managed to get reasonably close to the subtle and thoughtful film he was clearly aiming for. Nevertheless, it still looks to me like he fell some way short of his target, with the result that this is an ultimately disappointing movie on many levels.

 

 

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