2021 European Film Awards Nominations

Vincent Lindon in Julia Ducournau’s Titane (2021)

Scanning the list of nominations for this year’s European Film Awards, some Americans may do a double take. Didn’t The Father and Quo Vadis, Aida? run the awards season marathon last year? They did. Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for his performance as an octogenarian losing his grip on reality in Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his 2014 play. It’s been eleven months since Chris Barsanti, writing for Slant, called The Father a “quietly terrifying drama about dementia.” And Jasmila Žbanić’s blistering chronicle of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre was nominated for best international feature. “The rigorous honesty of Quo Vadis, Aida? is harrowing, partly because it subverts many of the expectations that quietly attach themselves to movies about historical trauma,” wrote A. O. Scott in the New York Times.

Some films take a while to open in Europe, and with four nominations each, both The Father and Quo Vadis, Aida? are tied in the lead with Julia Ducournau’s Titane. There was a lot of heated anticipation when Titane won the Palme d’Or in Cannes this summer, but when it arrived in the fall, the critical consensus cooled considerably. Traumatized as a child—a car wreck resulted in a titanium plate being hammered into her skull—Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) has become a serial killer, dispatching suitors with a metal hair pin.

On the run and bearing a child following a rigorous bout of humping with an automobile, Alexia takes refuge at a fire station, disguising herself as Adrien, the long lost son of the fire chief (Vincent Lindon). Titane “literalizes Donna Haraway’s cyborg just as Ducournau’s Grave [Raw, 2016] literalized Tiqqun’s Young-Girl,” writes Phil Coldiron in Cinema Scope. “Ducournau is not naive: nothing in Titane leads me to believe she is unaware of the ease with which her film will click into its place in the discourse machine.”

In the Nation, Phoebe Chen suggests that Titane’s “most obvious conceit is its refusal of tidy binaries—between genders, between human and machine—distilled in the image of Alexia/Adrien’s corporeal form, her ready-made father figure, and her hybrid offspring. As an explicit metaphor, this conceit can feel compelling but overdetermined . . . Ducournau has built in far more questions than she can address.” Ultimately, Titane is “a mishmash of grindhouse tropes doused in that transgression-conferring, liquid neon color palette du jour known as ‘bisexual lighting,’” writes Beatrice Loayza in Artforum. Ducournau presents “a parade of superficially radical iconography that draws its power from the cobbling together of liminal experiences and opposite extremes. Titane is certainly a joyride, but truly unhinged it is not, circumscribed as it is by its own autophiliac enthrallment to extremity.”

Nipping at the heels of the leading trio with three nominations each are Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God and Juho Kuosmanen’s Compartment No. 6. The former is “a coming-of-age story and the director’s most personal film to date, set in an eternally glorious Naples that, in the first half, brims with a delectable assortment of Felliniesque figures whose exaggerations allow for characters to be stripped of extraneous layers, revealing their essence,” writes Jay Weissberg at the Film Verdict. “The second half, following a tragedy, sees a significant change in storytelling and a consequent loss of Sorrentino’s often breathtaking distinctiveness.”

For Little White LiesDavid Jenkins, while The Hand of God is “recognizably a work by Sorrentino, with its crisply rendered visuals, swishing camera moves, ironic, fun-poking humor and episodic structure, he’s dispensed with the arch detachment of films like Il divo and The Great Beauty and replaced it with a newfound earnestness that comes from his personal connection to the material. It’s a luxuriant and well-crafted film that brings a sense of spectacle to what is a story that’s interested in the highs and lows of low-slung domestic living, though every moment that works is usually trailed by one that doesn’t, making for frustratingly uneven viewing.”

In Compartment No. 6, the “lightly comic depiction of individuals at odds coming to a mutual understanding and even affection for one another may not be unique in outline, but the film is distinguished by Kuosmanen’s empathetic touch,” writes Pat Brown at Slant. Laura (Seidi Haarla), a Finnish archaeology student, boards a train in Moscow bound for Murmansk and ends up sharing a tight sleeper cabin with an aggressively boisterous Russian, Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov). “Think Before Sunrise on a true backpacker’s budget and aesthetic, with much messier drinking, and then you’re only part of the way there,” writes Guy Lodge at Film of the Week. “Kuosmanen’s film is a romance of sorts, but not a love story. Simple human connection is the prize here, and it is sometimes as impermanent as the view from a train window.”

After the more than four thousand members of the European Film Academy cast their ballots, the thirty-fourth round of European Film Awards will be presented in Berlin on December 11.

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