Seemingly inspired by Boys Don’t Cry (1999), feature documentary The Imposter (2012) and David Cronenberg’s 1996 adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s Crash, Julia Ducournau’s Palme D’Or-winning follow-up to Raw (2016) – my favourite film of the past five years – is tender and raw, ferocious and funny, and, despite wearing its influences on its diesel-stained sleeve, a true original. While not as brilliant as Raw (and I should not spend Ducournau’s career seeking something that is; Welles never topped Kane, right?), Titane is a major work by a major filmmaker, and echoes in the mind long after its loud credits roll.
Ready for a bonkers one-line synopsis? A young female exotic dancer serial killer goes into hiding with a grief-stricken fireman after having sex with a car. Yep. And that’s kind of spoiler-free. There’s a lot more.
The fireman is played by Vincent Lindon and it’s in his performance, and the relationship he builds with the murderous dancer Alexia (Agathe Rousselle, making an astonishing feature debut), that tenderness resides. At its heart, outside of the crowd-freaking acts of violence and depravity (no greater, by the way, than any in Raw), this is that old chestnut: a tale of two lost, deeply damaged souls finding each other. The film becomes increasingly – yes, tender – as it goes on, culminating in an ending as perfect, and perfectly moving, as it is inevitable.
My tears came at the exact one hour mark during I, Daniel Blake. I know because I checked my watch. And then I thought, goddamn you, Ken Loach, you know what you’re doing, don’t you?
The jury at this year’s Cannes Film Festival thought so too, awarding Loach’s 20th theatrically-released feature film the Palme D’Or in a controversial decision. I suppose it was controversial because nothing about I, Daniel Blake is groundbreaking, nor does it show any revolutionary thinking on Loach’s part. It’s a Ken Loach film through and through. But it’s a moving and very angry one, and it’s got something to scream out loud.
The scene that got me crying takes place in a food bank. Thankfully, I’ve never been in one. But thankfully, too, they exist. The scene is a masterpiece – a perfect confluence of script, direction and acting, particularly and specifically by Hayley Squires, who plays Katie, a young single mother of two befriended by Daniel Blake (UK stand-up Dave Johns), a carpenter who, after a heart attack, is finding it impossible to get out-of-work benefits from the Kafkaesque clutches of the bureacratic State. All this, of course, in a hardscrabble Northern (English) town.
Loach really rages against the machine here – emphatically, heroicly, stoicly – but the true heart of the film, the friendship between Daniel and Katie, is touching and sincere. There is also a lot of enormously good-hearted humour in the film’s first half. I saw it in a cinema full of mature citizens, and they lapped it up, laughing, cursing, and – in one small, triumphant moment – applauding.