Director: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon
Released: 31 December
As Hollywood strains to demonstrate good morals, French Cinema thankfully sticks to plumbing the depths of human perversity. And what a delight that such an intrepid filmmaker as Julia Ducournau has won the Palme d’Or for this.
Her debut, Raw, showed early promise. But despite some compelling moments, Raw ended up being a bit shapeless and less than the sum of its striking parts, with disconnected moments threaded together without narrative propulsion.
Not so for Titane. While Ducournau’s digressive streak does show up here, it’s more triumphant, at the service of something much more indelible and coherent.
We meet our anti-heroine, Alexia, as a child, who, having undergone a car accident, gets a titanium plate in her skull. But rather than make her wary of cars, her ordeal engenders a love affair with them. We fast-forward to Alexia as an adult, an erotic dancer, straddling a car at an exhibition. Afterwards, she kills a lascivious stalker with her hairpin. It turns out she’s been a serial killer for months – perhaps induced by that titanium plate. Oh, yeah, and she also has sex with a car – a good litmus test for your willingness to see this.
Less tentative than with Raw, Ducournau has the courage of her batshit-crazy convictions here. With unflinching Cronenbergian body-horror, she doles out casual, bone-crunching brutality, largely abandoning realism for dream logic. Titane is teeming with gleeful mutilation, violence as a sort of alchemy – Alexia breaks her own nose to evade police. Although you wince, you can’t help but admire Ducournau’s commitment to her visceral aesthetic. This is a director playing by her own rules. After all, Titane is impregnated by that comely car.
Perhaps Titane is too brash and alien to be relatable, too stringently metaphorical to prompt sympathetic reflection. And yet, Titane almost achieves a weird poignancy as it boldly swerves from horror into an unlikely familial drama – Alexia, hiding out, pretends to be a fireman’s missing son. Ducournau has mostly made a cerebral ‘ideas’ film, rather than an emotional one. Still, being so thoroughly wrong-footed by this singular director is a rush.
So what’s Titane about? The porousness of our identities? Our symbiosis with technology? Restrictive gender normativity? Whatever Ducournau’s intentions, such pointy-headed analyses feel beside the point. The urgency of this bizarre white-knuckle ride works on a gut-level and defies rationalisations. This is a film of blood, tears and engine oil.
Words: Rory Kiberd