Short answer: Yes, why yes I did.
When it comes to 2021 and “horror” (yes the quotations are on purpose) there’s a couple of films that had, until the last two days, popped in my mind, but hadn’t yet quite arrived before my eyes. Now that I’ve been able to rectify that and was able to see each, I can happily say they’ve made it into my heart as well. This hasn’t exactly been the year for horror, but if it means highlighting these, I am all for it. Always.
To rewind, the reason I put that in quotations is that I’m not entirely sure either should be considered predominantly horror, at least not as a defining element, even if there are sequences that definitely relish the description. I found them both to be unexpectedly poignant, and touching at times, flooring me in different (and, similar) ways too. Days later, as I reflect back on Lamb and Titane, I’m reminded of that beautiful staying power of movies, even when they are -technically- by some definition’s bonkers as F. These are two of my favorites of 2021, and I’m absolutely full of bliss to try to explain why.
Lamb (Valdimar Jóhannsson)
Mourning. This movie begins and ends with the feeling. There’s the undeniable sting of loss that permeates throughout the story, even when things get odd, or cute, or even horrific, there’s still the underlying sensation of being “without.” This is a powerful thing.
Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) and Maria (Noomi Rapace) appear to maintain a content existence on their sheep farm in Iceland. One day, when delivering a lamb, they make an unexpected discovery, and it brings back old wounds, while giving them new -if not a strange kind of- hope.
While not overly gratifying, it aspires greatly, and that makes Lamb standout. Even more so, it’s imaginative, which is always a reason for a hearty, enthusiastic clap. I recognize what it’s attempting, even when it isn’t completely coherent in execution, and it kept me fully engaged. In large part, it was the characters, and by extension, their performances, which really captured their affection.
This weird tale is one that may ask a lot of its viewers, especially that of patience, but it never seems small or fleeting in its presence. If anything Lamb is potent. There’s a supernatural element, that isn’t ever truly ignored, but a more intimate and personal one ends up feeling most prominent, which is that of loss. The unyielding, unmatchable feeling of being without someone you love.
There’s a tender element of Lamb, that invokes the warmth and joy of family, making even the oddest moments. I found it to be beautiful; heartbreaking and warming in equal measure. Sometimes, all we can ask for is the briefest of the lot, and Lamb seems to relish in its joy, even if it wonders if it “should” be doing so at all. Who are we to judge joy?
The cinematography by Eli Arenson is gorgeous, making me want to relinquish myself to the beauty (and sometimes terror) of the great expanse of nature. Peculiar to the umpteenth degree, Lamb finds its sweet spot in the unnatural, yet, natural places that horror can often find home.
I’d say this: don’t expect to be terrified, but be welcomed to finding a film that delves deeper and still manages to be sweet. I really relished it, and found myself unpacking elements, still, even now. This is definitely one of those films that will hit or miss, making some frustrated by the end and others pondering it for days. Lamb doesn’t take the time to explain everything, nor should it really have to. I think that this is a film that benefits from the intangible. Either way, I felt it was a sincere look at human emotions through the guise of a fantastical lens.
titane (Julia Ducournau)
Very few movies lately have struck me as much as Titane has. Despite almost seeing it at TIFF this year (it wasn’t available in my area) and hearing so much discussion on the film, I still remained in the dark about what I was going to see when I entered into this one. I’m so very glad that I did because it manages to cohesively tie together feelings that all remain on its raw (not a ref to her previous work 😏) surface. And it was wonderful. I’ve had a few conversations since with those who have seen it, but I can say, while we all didn’t have my response, we all had a visceral one. I feel like everytime I want to just explode with emotion and love, even if I can’t always wrangle the words to do so. Words are so lovely, and sometimes they just don’t do justice. Let’s see if I can now…
Either way, one of my favorite and one of the best of 2021.
After an accident as a child leaves her with a piece of titanium in her head, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) seems to now be disconnected from the world, except for when it comes to cars, and her sexual expression. Unhappy at home, and seemingly in any sort of relationship, Alexia finds purpose in other passions. Which, eventually, get her into trouble and on the run from the law. [Being purposely obtuse].
For the first half hour of the film, I was wondering if Titane would go too far, too fast. The thing is, there are some quite dazzling sequences in this time, but my favorite is really when the exclamation point is over and the film gives into its ellipsis. What happens after someone goes, truly, over the edge?
As a big fan of Raw I was excited to see where Julia Ducournau took us next. The writer/director has truly honed her craft here, creating a layered, extravaganza of emotion and style.
In some ways I consider the film split into two, (even if there’s intersecting elements and themes) with the “before” and “after” of Alexia and Adrien, as you will. There are some truly spectacularly choreographed moments of psychosis in part one (Ducournau is so good with musical choices/sequences) and in part two, there’s the real tender, heart-rending part. The one that makes you wonder deeper about the person you had been watching previously, committing heinous acts, and who has you considering the humanity in us all. Especially, the sensation of heartache and connection. Our stories mold us.
I don’t want to spoil too much, but even when it gets truly meaningful there is always this tenuous thread of oddity, sown into the fabric of Titane is the most wonderful of ways. This isn’t everyone’s film, but for us, weirdo’s out there, I can’t imagine a more satisfying dive.
So, let it take a hold of you, because it will push you- prod at you, and pull you into some far reaches of your psyche and body you don’t expect.
Part body horror, part emotional rollercoaster and part stylistic thriller, Titane is powerful because of its ability to weild multiple weapons at once.
The relationship between Alexia/ and Vincent (Vincent Lindon) is one of true wonder, moving and earnest, because -while- its birth is out of a place of distrust- its settlement is within a place of necessity and mutual healing. Both of these individuals need the other, they just didn’t know it until now. We’re all broken in ways, and sometimes we don’t know or expect who/what will be our healing grace.
There’s so much to absorb, I don’t know if I can express my love verbally enough. This is a film that moved me, shook me, shocked me, but ultimately made me yearn to be as meaningful as this medium can be.
It is one of the extraordinary reasons that I continue to keep film as my savior, my confidante, and most importantly: my joy. That unexpected twinge.
Titane is absolutely exactly as it has been sold. If by that you mean amazing, yes, it is one of the best of the year. Wholly original, I would suggest any who expects their cinema to inspire and upend to see.
I was really swept up by both of these movies, and I would suggest any cinephile experience them before 2021’s end.