Tag Archives: Agathe Rousselle

What the Oscar Nominations Missed

The Oscars tend to latch on to specific films and focus all attention on them. There are 17 categories a feature film can be nominated in (since it can’t be nominated for both adapted and original screenplay). Of course, certain categories can see two nominations, such as two supporting actors for the same film. There are 18 possible if you’re an animated film, but at that point several of the other categories are realistically shut off to you.

This year, “The Power of the Dog” has 12 nominations, “Dune” has 10. They’re both extremely good films, but I’m not so sure that both excel past so many other films this year in the vast majority of categories. The record for nominations is held in a tie by “All About Eve”, “Titanic”, and “La La Land”. “All About Eve” saw nominations in 14 of the 16 categories for which it qualified. “Titanic and “La La Land” saw nominations in 14 of 17 categories. That tendency to boil the industry down to only a few films is counterproductive – not because of the quality of the films, which are very good, but because it necessarily overlooks technical, writing, and acting achievements in smaller films, genre films, and sometimes otherwise average films.

A movie that’s good-but-not-great might have superb editing that deserves a nomination. An intentionally cheesy horror film could deserve a nod for its jaw-dropping production design. A black-and-white film might deserve a costume nom, and there might be a whole host of brilliant smaller films that simply got overlooked (this entire paragraph is foreshadowing).

More than any other awards show, the Oscars are built as an advertisement. The Academy harnesses the preferences of its membership to create zeitgeist around a limited number of films. If dozens of films each have a few nominations apiece, the ad doesn’t work because audiences aren’t really pushed in a specific direction. There’s too much choice for the advertisement to direct you. If a very few films have a mountain of nominations, then those movies become must-see.

I’d argue that this is counter-productive because it sells to a limited section of your audience. Horror and science-fiction films that break new technological ground get ignored; independent films and non-English language movies compete for a limited range of nominations; and many of the bravest directors taking the most chances are overlooked. While the recognition for Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” this year, Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland” last year, and the films of Asian and Hispanic directors the last several years is long overdue, this limited focus in nominations is a big part of the narrowing that barred entry for including these perspectives in the first place.

There are ways to celebrate the entire industry without losing focus – especially when you’ve got three hours to do it – but hammering a few films into mind over and over again is a more risk-averse strategy. Again, these films deserve it; they’re just not the only ones that do. I’d suggest the repetition and lack of focus on the accomplishments of the industry at large is a big part of the reason the Oscars keep losing viewers. Audiences have the entire world of filmmaking at their fingertips now; their nominations still don’t consistently reflect that.

I don’t mean to treat this in a cynical way. You can still like watching an ad. Hell, I’m writing this whole article about one. I’ve enjoyed the Oscars a number of times, though I think it took a wrong turn when it shifted away from Hugh Jackman, Neil Patrick Harris, and song-and-dance numbers and instead pursued James Franco and – at least an improvement from him – no host at all.

And while I’m excited for Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes hosting, I’m also wary of host Amy Schumer given her history of racist jokes. That includes some that are basically Trump lines about Latines. Yes, she apologized in 2016. It must’ve been difficult to write that single Tweet before she went straight back to making even more racist jokes, including the racist cluster of clusterfucks that is “Snatched”. And…actually, you know what, I just wrote nearly the same intro about Ellen Rapoport last week. Maybe let’s find comedians who don’t build their careers off of posing Latines as inhuman, untrustworthy animals. You have no idea how tiring it is and, if you do, wouldn’t it be nice to write and talk about what we love without having to feel that hatred sucking away our soul when we come to these parts of it?

Let’s circle back. The Oscars offer a well-recognized lens through which to look at which nominations struck and what movies and accomplishments were overlooked in the past year:

Best Costume Design

Nominated: Cruella, Cyrano, Dune, Nightmare Alley, West Side Story

Forgotten: Marci Rodgers, Passing

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in "Passing".

A black-and-white film can have trouble standing out in this category, but the costume design in “Passing” is astounding. What’s most remarkable are the places where it isn’t flashy, where we see the clothes people dressed in on a daily basis. Our central characters are socialites to a degree, but they’re not ridiculously wealthy. What they wear is nice, but unlike so many period films, it looks like the clothing that characters from that period would actually wear more than one time.

There was a focus on avoiding flapper fashion tropes, which didn’t define that era yet is routinely recognized for doing so on film. As Costume Designer Marci Rodgers says, the film’s characters were “more likely to adhere to respectability politics than to flout sartorial strictures of that era”. After all, part of passing as white is fitting in without calling too much attention to yourself.

In other words, the costume choices make the period film feel lived-in instead of simply giving us idealized examples that look nicest being worn once for the camera. That alone should put Marci Rodgers’s work in “Passing” ahead of certain other films that prioritize cinematic showiness over period accuracy and practicality. You may’ve seen Rodgers’s work before in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and Steven Soderbergh’s “High Flying Bird”.

Best Make-up and Hairstyling

Nominated: Coming 2 America, Cruella, Dune, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, House of Gucci

Forgotten: Eldo Ray Estes (makeup head), Cliona Furey (hair designer), Mike Hill (special makeup effects designer), Nightmare Alley

The exclusion of “Nightmare Alley” from this category is astounding, especially when you consider that the film tracks across several years and shifts characters through different social classes and styles. To my mind, only two of the nominations approach the sheer amount of work that “Nightmare Alley” accomplishes, representing a carnival in the 30s, high society in the 40s, shifting characters in and out of hairstyling, wigs, wigs on top of wigs. I’d even say the hallmark accomplishment of the film – making Bradley Cooper unrecognizable in two wildly opposite directions – stands alongside the best individual make-up jobs of the year.

Best Production Design

Nominated: Dune, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, The Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story

Forgotten: Desma Murphy, Malignant

The Academy has a habit of overlooking stellar technical achievements in films that aren’t otherwise great. “Malignant” is more complex because it’s actively created to be ambitiously, consciously…I don’t want to use the word “bad”, but it has a serious investment in schlock horror and why we connect to it. “Malignant” succeeds so wildly at evoking shocking slasher films because it’s so knowledgeable and precise about their history. I didn’t imagine “Malignant” had a chance to be nominated for anything, but it does some remarkable things with its production design, and how that design is purpose-built for so many other elements of the film – such as its cinematography, special effects, and choreography.

For its production design, “Malignant” draws from 60s/70s giallo and pop art, the wide gamut of 80s horror, more specific sci-fi like “Blade Runner”, and especially 90s gothic action movies like “The Crow”. It also pulls from much more recent horror films, although this is harder to separate from director James Wan’s own style considering he’s created so much of this newer aesthetic himself.

“Malignant” introduces a surprising amount that’s fresh in horror filmmaking from a technical standpoint. The production design is outstanding, even if the rest of the film’s ambitions lie in giving us a grisly creature feature that doesn’t really care how good or bad it is, so long as it keeps your attention.

Best Visual Effects

Nominated: Dune, Free Guy, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, No Time to Die, Spider-Man: No Way Home

Forgotten: The Suicide Squad
(clip contains major spoilers)

I’ve long hated this category because it prizes the greatest amount and fidelity of visual effects. It tends to lean away from how those effects are actually used in an artistic sense. I’m not sure we’ve seen an action movie that so effectively translates comic book sensibilities through visual effects, and that’s saying something considering how competitive and well-funded the genre is right now.

It’s tough to see “The Suicide Squad” snubbed here when it introduced a more playful and character-focused use of visual effects than superhero movies think we deserve. If I name my 10 favorite moments of visual effects this year, at least four come from “The Suicide Squad”. From Harley Quinn’s Disneyfied vision of violence and Polka-Dot Man’s lo-fi powers and high-strung anxieties, to King Shark’s entire existence and the cartoonish horror and beauty of the film’s dementedly heartfelt climax, no other movie’s visual effects this year actually served the characters inside of the film better than in “The Suicide Squad”.

Best Sound

Nominated: Belfast, Dune, No Time to Die, The Power of the Dog, West Side Story

Forgotten: Jill Purdy, Nathan Robitaille, Nightmare Alley

The ticking of a watch as it passes by the camera. The strike of high heeled shoes on marble. The lively bustle of a carnival. The empty white noise of a city. The strange sound absorption of snow, a sensation rarely captured so well in a film. I loved the sound design of “Nightmare Alley”. It has a number of nominations, so it’s not exactly lacking, but I would have loved a nomination here.

Best Original Score

Nominated: Don’t Look Up, Dune, Encanto, Parallel Mothers, The Power of the Dog

Forgotten: Natalie Holt, Fever Dream

Natalie Holt garnered a lot of attention this past year for composing the music for “Loki” (and years before that for hurling eggs at Simon Cowell). Her work in Claudia Llosa’s “Fever Dream” is a pulsing thing centered on breathing strings and a sense of profound isolation. Magical realism on film is extremely reliant on its music because it’s the element that can most immediately mirror a character’s emotional state. The score connects the inner experience of being in that moment to a form that’s defined by a far more abstract and disordered sense of time and place.

Holt’s score is yearning and lonely. It reflects the finality and fatalism of this particular kind of magical realist storytelling. It’s consequential and dramatic without ever feeling overbearing. It’s quiet and lurking, but sympathetic at the same time, just like the threat of tragedy that’s understood too late even though it begins and concludes “Fever Dream”.

Best Cinematography

Nominated: Dune, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, The Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story

Forgotten: Oscar Faura, Fever Dream

As a piece of magical realism, “Fever Dream” needs to blend the suggestive and abstract to the everyday. Landscapes themselves become animist, and homes that interrupt the farmland create a progressive layering of what’s perceived as safe giving way to field and copse and finally wood.

There’s a consistent use of backlighting, natural evening light, and shallow focus that is generally avoided in film but here highlights the woman at the center of its story as unable to see the full picture even as the audience recognizes it. That’s a central tenet of magical realism: that the audience already knows the what, but we need to learn the why and how. To find ways that evoke this through cinematography is remarkable, and this is all before taking into account the film’s shades of horror and beautifully filmed hallucinatory elements.

I’d also strongly push “Titane” and “Passing” here because I can do so and quickly move on to the next category without explaining how I’d still get it down to five nominations:

Best Film Editing

Nominated: Don’t Look Up, Dune, King Richard, The Power of the Dog, tick, tick…BOOM!

Forgotten: Fred Raskin, Christian Wagner, The Suicide Squad

This shouldn’t come out of left field if you’ve seen the film. Every bit of personality, comedy, and emotional resonance in “The Suicide Squad” is underlined by its extraordinary editing. What’s most impressive is the sheer range on display here: action movie, comedy montage, noir, drama. There’s a full rotation of different editing rhythms that James Gunn’s film cycles through for its various characters and their different emotional states.

It fuses title screens into the environment, flashbacks within literal windows, and a host of stunning tricks that you’d expect to see in something far more experimental than this genre usually gives us. I’d place this as one of the most difficult jobs for an editor out of all the superhero movies we’ve seen, but it doesn’t just hit that mark – it excels beyond it on every front.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominated: Coda, Drive My Car, Dune, The Lost Daughter, The Power of the Dog

Forgotten: Rebecca Hall, Passing

Hall’s adaptation of Nella Larsen’s novel brilliantly discusses the co-optation of culture and identity. I’ve seen a lot of reads on the film that talk about how it rejects a Black woman who’s long passed as white and is trying to return to being Black, but I think this risks overlooking a central conversation in the film.

Clare isn’t someone returning to being Black, she’s someone who’s still passing as white, returning to a Black community as a white tourist in the fashion protagonist Irene and novelist Hugh discuss mid-film. This redefines “Passing” into a far more complex consideration of privilege, co-optation, and whether someone can embrace who they are while still hating it. It’s one of the most wrenching discussions of race I’ve seen in narrative filmmaking.

Best Original Screenplay

Nominated: Belfast, Don’t Look Up, Licorice Pizza, King Richard, The Worst Person in the World

Forgotten: Emma Seligman, Shiva Baby

Emma Seligman’s debut film lands an audacious number of risks. It tells the story of Danielle, a college student who bumps into her sugar daddy at a Jewish funeral service. She navigates her parents’ expectations, a passive-aggressive ex, and a number of realizations about the lies her sugar daddy’s told her. As it touches on feminism, sexual empowerment, Millennial and Gen Z angst, and generational lies, “Shiva Baby” becomes an unflinchingly tense navigation of both personal and cultural truths that still aren’t wholly deciphered.

The screenplay is equal parts funny and horrifying, and manages to make us laugh even as things grow more uncomfortable. At times, I even found myself comparing the quickfire theatrical pacing and claustrophobic use of a single location in “Shiva Baby” to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Best Supporting Actress

Nominated: Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter), Ariana Debose (West Side Story), Judi Dench (Belfast), Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog), Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard)

Forgotten: Ruth Negga, Passing
(CW: clip contains racism, use of the N-word)

This is one of the biggest oversights of the year. One of the most complex roles in recent years asks Negga to portray a Black woman passing for white. Through a friend, she returns to the Black community – but not as someone re-embracing or relearning who she is or the violence she’s done to her identity.

Instead, she returns as white, entering this sphere as a tourist, assuming centrality in a community she still rejects from her own identity. She does this in a way that’s outwardly kind, soft-spoken, and often plaintive, but also reads as manipulative, in full use of the white privilege she’s learned. Rarely has someone portrayed the insidiousness of cultural co-optation so completely.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominated: Ciaran Hinds (Belfast), Troy Kotsur (Coda), Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog), JK Simmons (Being the Ricardos), Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)

Forgotten: Willem Dafoe, Nightmare Alley

The Oscars have a way of overlooking some of the best genre performances. Unless someone’s playing the Joker, the most precise and chilling performances in genre work go without a nomination. Dafoe’s carnival boss Clem Hoatley sticks in your brain as a hideously abusive, yet nonetheless chummy man. He’d love talking to you and showing you the ropes, but he’d just as soon stab you in the back if it served his purposes. What communicates for all his toothy, slithering presentation is just how banal and workaday he makes abuse, how he can discuss it like any other work procedure over drinks and a meal. As housed within horror fantasy as Clem Hoatley is, we’ve all met many managers and supervisors who are just like him.

Best Actor

Nominated: Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Andrew Garfield (tick, tick…BOOM!), Will Smith (King Richard), Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth)

Forgotten: Nicolas Cage, Pig

Nicolas Cage movies are often B-grade flights of nonsense, but you can’t dismiss all of them. That risks overlooking some of the most interesting independent work of the last several years. None stand out as strongly as “Pig”, a quiet and understated testament to gentleness housed within the framework of what would be a revenge film with any other script.

Cage plays Rob, a man whose truffle pig is stolen. Truffles go for thousands apiece, and he seeks the pig out amid Portland’s cutthroat restaurant scene. Cage delivers the performance of his career. Rob is an aggressively guarded misanthrope, shut off because he remembers every bit of empathy throughout his life. A towering, bearded, bloodied hermit, he navigates confrontation through a gentle understanding of others. Rarely have characters so overwhelmed by their empathy and desperate to shut it off been portrayed with such human nuance.

Best Actress

Nominated: Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter), Penelope Cruz (Parallel Mothers), Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos), Kristen Stewart (Spencer)

Forgotten: Agathe Rousselle, Titane
(CW: clip contains violence, blood)

Agathe Rousselle in “Titane” stands out as one of the most chilling and soul-emptying performances of a psychopath in cinema. As Alexia, she goes through every emotion there is as if performing a shell of expectations for others. She spends most of the film hiding in a guise that begins to accept elements of her psychopathy – under that of a man among other men. The male privilege that accepts and prizes aggression is one she can find a comfort in, and the ability to create such a cold character who still evokes our empathy – not because she’s changed but because her environment has – is a performance that challenges our understanding of the norms we use to demarcate gender and its privileges.

Many times, the best performance in a year is something you’ve seen done before in an exceptional, unparalleled way. This year, it’s something exceptional and unparalleled that I’ve just never seen done before.

(I want to be specific – hers is not a performance of a trans character. She is hiding out, disguising herself as a young man because it prevents police from finding her. She remains a woman throughout, even if she hides this from others. This allows writer-director Julia Ducournau to investigate the masculine tendencies that are discouraged among women, and the feminine aspects in men that we’re trained to psychologically self-mutilate out of ourselves).

Best Directing

Nominated: Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car), Steven Spielberg (West Side Story)

Forgotten: Julia Ducournau, Titane and Rebecca Hall, Passing

Rebecca Hall’s “Passing” and Julia Ducournau’s “Titane” both leap toward the front of my list of the best films of the past decade. “Passing” requires a precise realization of its smallest moments and gestures, whereas “Titane” is a visually evocative tour-de-force. Both feature an exquisite pairing of actors directed with purpose: Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga in “Passing” and Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon in “Titane”.

Both directors fit stories into worlds both recognizable and related to our own, yet at the same time stylistically removed so that story can bite deep when the time comes. Both films had me thinking for days, falling asleep in a fog of their implications and waking up with a deep desire to tackle them anew. Both offer questions and challenges to my perceptions that I’m not sure I have the answers to, and that’s exciting art that I know I’ll return to again and again.

Ask me whether Hall or Ducournau did a better job and the answer will change day by day, depending on which one I’m thinking about. They’re my 1-2 for best film of the year, and neither saw a single Oscar nomination.

Best Picture

Nominated: Belfast, Coda, Don’t Look Up, Drive My Car, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, West Side Story

Forgotten: Passing

So why choose “Passing” over “Titane”? There’s a precise answer, and it’s that the screenplay for “Passing” elevates it above “Titane” in how it speaks to me. Even if both are precise creations, “Passing” cuts into me where “Titane” extrudes something from me. Nine times out of 10, I’d choose what’s more evocative, but I’m not sure I’ve met a film that cuts so deep as “Passing”.

The Black and Hispanic experiences for those who aren’t both can be very different, but both face some similarities in the systemic constructs that ask us to internalize racism against ourselves. That separates us from our communities, and even makes us reject them or repeat to them the very same racism practiced on us. I spent much of my childhood learning from my environment to hate the Hispanic half of who I am, and much of my adulthood learning to accept it. That requires coping with the trauma that was inflicted on me and that I was taught to inflict on myself.

At the same time, as Rebecca Hall says in the clip above, I have to reckon with the aspects of privilege I have embodied or used. What benefits have I enjoyed that others who can’t pass haven’t? What aspects of that system have I propagated?

Oh, but that’s all subjective? How else would we watch film? Saying the best film of the year is any film says that it speaks to us in some subjective way. Few films have bothered with concepts of passing and internalized racism, despite racism against oneself being one of the most widely repeated messages in the history of American media. There needs to be more that speaks to this section of the audience, and frankly, there needs to be more that speaks like “Titane” as well. The reason it’s right next to “Passing” is because it speaks to vicious and hateful reinforcements of binary gender constructs. I think we all could’ve used a bit less of that growing up, too.

Frankly, the difference between what I’d call the best and second-best film of the year, or even fifth-best film of the year isn’t really that much. They’re all worth seeing. The nominated films are all worth seeing. I just don’t want to let the moment pass without highlighting so much else of what made last year special in film.

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Man is the Warmest Place to Hide — “Titane”

The following contains spoilers for “Titane”, Celine Sciamma’s “Girlhood”, and light spoilers for Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing”.

“Titane” is a stab at the heart of maleness, but not in the way you might expect. As a child, Alexia was in a horrific car accident that required doctors to implant a metal plate in her head. As an adult, she’s a popular model who dances at car shows. She’s also a serial killer who has sex with cars.

After a botched murder, she goes on the run. She decides to disguise herself as someone else in the news. She becomes Adrien, a firefighter’s long lost son who’s been missing for a decade. The heartbroken Vincent accepts her as Adrien and takes her in without question.

I want to note that the pronouns I’m using are intentional. Even though Alexia disguises herself as Adrien, this isn’t a trans role. Adrien is a cover to stop from being found by police; Alexia seems to identify and refer to herself consistently as a woman. She just can’t do that in front of those around her. The opportunity here is the metaphor of a woman training within and having access to masculinity. Obviously, this is a fine line for a story to walk – more on that in a minute.

“Titane” is ratcheted as taut as it can go. Will Alexia be discovered? Surrounded by men at a fire station, is she under threat as a woman? As someone the others perceive as frail, is she under threat as a man? Since she’s a serial killer, are they under threat? Will it matter if she’s discovered? Is she safe from Vincent? Is Vincent safe from her? Is she pregnant with a Cadillac’s baby?

At the same time, “Titane” is also a film about acceptance and the artificial gender-based borders we create to deny it to ourselves and each other.

There’s a scene later in “Titane” where a room full of firemen dance. Alexia – still disguised as Adrien – helps start a mosh pit. It’s an outlet for her violence, the kind of outlet for aggression women are socially denied, but that’s treated as perfectly normal for men. She’s encouraged to the top of a fire engine to dance. At long last, she’s found a place that accepts her, and so she dances as she knows how – as a model at a car show. The dance is feminine, sexual, made to appeal to men. Yet she’s still perceived by those around her as a man, as Adrien.

The discomfort of the firemen who were celebrating her just moments ago grows palpable. They look at each other in disgust, yet don’t exactly turn away. Are the men disgusted at her, or at their own feelings in relation to someone they perceive as male?

Alexia is not allowed in both worlds. This moment of acceptance into a masculine world directly precludes and asks denial of her feminine aspects.

This speaks to two gender-based social denials. Women are denied an approved outlet for things like physical aggression. Men are denied any aspects that can be read as feminine. Both meet rejection and disgust, but are these feelings in reaction to the person who’s expressing these aspects of themselves – or are they really a projection on the part of the observer? Is it so ingrained in them to reject these aspects of themselves that witnessing them in another triggers a trained, kneejerk self-disgust? We know that inward self-rejection then translates to outward hostility.

“Titane” is a film that maintains a reality and tension while also making me turn other films over in my head. Writer-director Julia Ducournau’s themes in “Titane” parallel the work of another French writer-director, Celine Sciamma. In many of Sciamma’s films, there are underlying comparisons of how men and women treat camaraderie, acceptance, and their sense of self.

The opening of Sciamma’s “Girlhood” features her characters in a football game (American football). They’re physical, tackling, and they combine the feminine camaraderie with this physical, violent game. The game never literally happens in the movie. It’s a metaphor, but it has every bearing on the girls’ existence. They can be themselves, they can be aggressive and physically dominant without shame. They have their own space to express these aspects of themselves. In the very next scene, they walk in groups at night to protect themselves from the harassment of groups of boys.

“Girlhood” tracks Marieme as she becomes Vic. By the end of the film, she’s embraced genderfluid traits: glamourizing her presentation as a woman for the jobs she can get, and binding her breasts and presenting herself with male traits in her private life. The film doesn’t reach the point of a transition, and who knows if that was further on Vic’s path.

In many ways, it treats masculinity as a way out for women. Sciamma manages both lines of thought well in “Girlhood”. Access to masculinity grants safety and privilege to Vic that she doesn’t have when she’s perceived as feminine. At the same time, this also informs Vic’s own story in discovering who she is.

“Titane” engages the first, but not the second. Alexia is hiding out by disguising herself as a man, but there’s no suggestion that she’s becoming more genderfluid or transitioning. Her cover as a man is a necessity of the plot and its metaphor. As I mentioned, she personally maintains her identity as a woman and as Alexia throughout. She just has to hide this out of circumstance.

Needless to say, this can be problematic. Unfortunately, as a film that’s part body horror, aspects like binding are presented in a way that play to that genre. While it’s not the focus of “Titane”, it still engages in some negative and harmful trans tropes. There’s a line that could’ve been walked more finely.

I’ve read work now that argues on both sides of the intersection “Titane” makes with genderfluidity and trans tropes. Alexia’s character comments on the roles one has to play to be accepted within masculinity, and the outlets that masculinity offers men but denies women. Despite this not being a trans role, criticism that this engages negative trans tropes is legitimate. I think “Titane” can be an incredible commentary on the need to accept genderfluidity, and a successful criticism on the unhealthy restrictions of strict gender roles, while also having some issues that could’ve been handled better.

In terms of the performances, Agathe Rousselle as Alexia and Vincent Lindon as Vincent are both remarkable. They play masculine roles from opposite directions of compensation, and in so doing reveal masculinity itself as a fundamentally compensatory projection. That there were no Oscar nominations for “Titane” is a disappointment, but perhaps not surprising.

“Titane” may exist more as something to think about after the fact than as an experience that can be digested during its viewing. I find that it takes up residence alongside some of my favorite films, and ones that all engage gender dynamics and ingrained cultural violence – albeit in very different ways. Aside from Sciamma’s work, “Titane” also recalls Claudia Llosa’s “The Milk of Sorrow”, which engages colonialism and generational trauma from a perspective that’s similar, though through a sense of magical realism instead of body horror.

More directly, Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” follows a similar premise of a serial killer finding a place to become more human. Like “Titane”, there are questions as to whether this is done out of empathy, or finally finding a place of safety that allows her to know herself better. They take these concepts into different places and the reality of that safety is opposite in each, but they offer a perspective on some of the same questions.

Perhaps most unexpectedly, “Titane” makes me reflect on John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. In college, I found a book that analyzed “The Thing” as a parable for man’s fear of the feminine. I remember thinking it was silly when I read it. It’s one of my favorite films and I thought I knew what it meant, but the more I’ve thought about it since, the more I’ve realized it’s entirely accurate. I’ve searched for the book since, but I can’t even track down its name. It may’ve been a student thesis that was never officially published.

Regardless, “The Thing” works as an almost direct inversion of “Titane”, similar to seeing the movie from the perspective of the firemen watching Alexia dance as Adrien. “The Thing” is most fun when taken literally, but thinking of it metaphorically, it mirrors how men view the feminine in themselves. It’s a hostile threat that produces fear of being taken over, met by men who question each other and doubt each other’s masculine wholeness. It takes you over without your even realizing. The Thing itself often takes shape as a sort of vagina dentata in appearance, likening the loss of self to a castration of its cast of exceptionally manly men. Unlike the more phallic horrors of the time, it doesn’t stab or pierce or penetrate but rather absorbs and envelops. A number of analyses have been done on “The Thing” from this perspective (Tracy Moore’s rundown at Mel Magazine is a good starter).

Reflecting on these other films and their engagement with gender boundaries is my door into describing “Titane” as clarifying. It adds perspective. As taut as it is, as good as the performances are, as stunning as its visuals are, it’s one of the most unfilm-films I’ve seen. This is because it’s not really about what’s happening on screen as much as it’s about what’s happening in each of us as we watch it. I’ve mentioned this about some films before, but I think “Titane” takes it even further.

What connections do we make to “Titane” from other works of art, what questions does it spur, how does it make us look back on our discomforts and whether we’ve come away from them? The most remarkable feat of “Titane” is that the line between what it projects into us and what we project onto it isn’t a boundary. It’s a thread, the same each way. As a mirror for our projections about gender dynamics, what it ultimately clarifies to us are our own personal fables, fears, perhaps even lies – those projections we take into our lives because we decline to understand or confront where they take root in each of us.

For all its tension and body horror, “Titane” asks if our projection of who we are has enough empathy for who we really are to dismantle itself. Of course, it can’t give an answer on our behalf. All it can do is get those two pieces in the same room together. The rest is up to us.

You can watch “Titane” on Hulu, or see where to rent it.

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