10 Best Films 2021: Joseph Wade
Julia Ducournau’s long-awaited follow-up to Raw won her the honour of being only the second woman in history to win the Cannes Palme d’Or, and the first in almost thirty years. And with good reason: Titane is a spectacular amalgamation of genres and ideals, and yet it all feels so co-ordinated, so meant to be.
Gender and sexuality are central and consistent themes presented throughout this French-language offering, Titane very much embodying the talking points of our time by so emphatically making statements about our evolutions to gender stereotypes and particularly what it means to be a woman.
Debut feature actor Agathe Rousselle is simply astonishing, her wired stare demanding attention even as she transforms from object of the male gaze into a male herself. With sex, murder and unspoken fragility to portray, Rousselle is unmissable, and the art that is put in place around her just as mesmerising, timely and important.
4. Petite Maman
Céline Sciamma and her softness of touch offered the ultimate fairy tale-like guiding hand through grief during a time of great isolation and loss for us all, Petite Maman being just over an hour’s worth of truly heart-melting cinema from one of the greatest filmmakers on the planet.
With a focus on women, and particularly a young girl grieving the loss of her grandmother and absence of her mother, Sciamma’s latest piece is as short as the life of its 8-year-old lead, as delicate and philosophical but brave and inquisitive as any child, and takes no shortcuts to force any of its ideas, themes or emotional trigger points onto you, instead quietly and rigidly building a den of catharsis in which we can all grieve and laugh together.
What is so fascinating about watching this film about a child’s experiences dealing with great loss is that this gaping hole never overshadows the natural childishness of a little girl, it never engulfs every inch of happiness as might have been the case with a lesser filmmaker; Petite Maman simply radiates the beauty of the future (of the girl and of life) as it builds a monument for the past.
3. The Father
Anthony Hopkins is the centrepiece of The Father, and his performance as the titular father going through vast changes caused by his ongoing battle with dementia is one of the best of the past few years. His transitions from Hannibal Lecter-like icy stares to aggressive rants and right through to child-like suffering are simply unmissable.
The masterstroke of Florian Zeller’s directorial debut, however, is when the set changes during a simple camera pan from right to left. As the building we see changes before us, characters suddenly begin to be played by different actors and we are forced to feel just as Anthony Hopkins’ character does: disorientated, off-centre and suspicious that everything is not as it seems. The supporting cast works terrifically to reinforce this, each being familiar without being A-Listers, and as such they are perfectly assigned – we share with Anthony’s perspective that we feel like we may know them without being sure if we have yet been introduced.
This feature debut may go down in history as one of the most inspired and mature of all time, the French stage director’s use of the film form being some of the most astonishing in all of cinema in 2021. Perhaps we have never seen such an utterly moving portrait of the pains of dementia on both sufferer and family, this immaculately told piece bringing to light an issue that effects so many people in a way that remains highly artistic and engaging on every level throughout.