Julia Ducournau’s genre-bending body horror masterpiece took the Cannes 2021 Palm d’Or. Alexia, played with a mesmerizing physicality by Agathe Rousselle, is a woman who was injured in a car accident as a child and now has a titanium plate fitted into her head.
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD
She grows up to be a (sympathetic?) chopstick-wielding serial killer who is impregnated by a hot rod automobile. To escape arrest, she impersonates the long-lost son of a steroid-addict fire chief played with ferocity and tenderness by Vincent Lindon.
This is one of the most shocking films I’ve ever seen. Not for mere onscreen violence, but for the moments building up to and surrounding its sickening swirl. Ducournau’s previous feature “Raw” handled tension and sickening unease of a sexual coming-of-age story with a cannibal twist beyond artfully. Her talents are on full display here, with the theme of love being explored beyond all bounds. This movie is visceral.
I’m still wrestling with a consistent interpretation of any overarching symbolism. And perhaps it is not meant to be digestible, in the end. My closest touch-stone in modern film would be Mathew Barney’s automobile-centric surreal mythology. It is all at once about gender, transformation, trauma, birth – simultaneously leaning on body horror’s genre conventions while also refusing/confounding each expectation.