French auteur in the making Julia Ducournau, one of the most promising and audacious up and coming filmmakers of the era, scripted and directed the 2021 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner Titane. A highly audacious body horror that is one of the most mind-blowing and boldest visions of the year. In her sophomore follow-up to the 2017 ravenous horror thriller Raw, Ducournau carries on with body horror violence and depraved subject matter that is rendered with cerebral subtext, idiosyncratic sensibilities, and rich emotional depths. With unique abstractions, there is something smelting about the whole experience. With its power: from the wholly original narrative that defies all expectations where you never know how it’s going to unfold–to the fearless and psychical performances by Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon is a restorer to the commanding power of authentic performances–to many great moments and scenes that are inevitably going to be discussed for years. Titane is a work of genius that isn’t easy to classify. For starters, it’s a serial killer thriller, at times a character study that occasionally evolves into a body-horror movie, but while it is many things, there is no doubt that the experience is unforgettable and deeply distressing.
With shades of Lynchian surrealism and Cronenberg insanity, the tale centers on Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), an exotic dancer who erotically twirls around muscular cars with fishnet stockings bathed in neon lights in front of rowdy men–in which she has generated a fan base for who lust for her body dancing around and on the cars. In one meticulously executed scene with an unbroken long take, we track with Alexia and other fellow dancers dance around cars as men cheer on as Alexia begins to exotically dance around the vehicle. It’s there where Ducournau delivers sharp commentary how female bodies can be easily perceived as machines, in which the vehicles also have body parts and fluids that envisage our desires, and Ducournau examines the correlation between eroticism and machine, and just like David Cronenberg did in his 1996 masterwork Crash, Titane explores how the fetishisms of vehicles draws parallels to carnal impulses, human sexuality, and of course the male gaze. Within the first half of the film, Alexia has a lust for vehicles, she even has sex inside of a car vehicle of a show room where she works at. How this occurs is left obscured, but Ducournau stages the scene in a wide shot that cuts with medium-close-ups and close-ups of Alexia’s reaction as the vehicle bounces up and down with its hydraulics. Like Crash, the sexual encounter of automobiles is established by a traumatic near-death experience involving an automobile, which left Alexia with a titanium plate in her head when she was a child.
While often having to defend herself from creepy fans who turn out to be sexual predators, she also has a craving to kill with a metal hair stick as her weapon that she pulls out from her hair. The set-up alone begins with a punch and takes an abrupt shift once Alexia begins to amp up her body count as the authorities begin to track her down. Desperate and on the run, she ends up cutting her hair, shaves her eyebrows, as she also uses and mangles her own face to disguise herself as a young man who went missing a decade ago. She also tapes down her breasts, and she soon discovers that she is pregnant which she also tapes down her breasts and baby bump as she also bleeds used motor oil. The young man’s father, Vincent (Vincent Lindon), a firefighter chief, ends up taking her in as the film becomes a story of mistaken identity after Vincent is convinced Alexia is her son named Adrian. Vincent is well past his middle-ages, but he is still muscular, and is the lead chief of a band of firefighters. Vincent is also very lonely as he longs for the human connection of his long-lost son, in which Alexia transforms herself into Adrian and even becomes mute to carry on the identity so he can’t realize her feminine voice. Vincent also has a steroid problem that he depends on to keep his body in muscular shape.
Through a sharp dichotomy in narrative, the story moves away from brutal murders and explicit sex, and ends up becoming an unexpected story about adoration, acceptance, and toxic masculinity, and how its engraved in society. The film also explores the contradictory vulnerabilities between masculine and feminine forces. While the film certainly has lurid and shocking moments that will certainly overwhelm the discussion of the film, Titane is something to experience with just how formally daring it is. It invokes an emotion that is compared to other films that are a work of high art. However, the most shocking thing is the strong characterizations and chemistry between Vincent and Alexia/Adrian where you feel their growth come through as the film progresses. This is also due to the exceptional performances by the film’s leads, who both deliver transformative performances that are both emotive and psychical. How Alexia transforms into Adrian and is mostly expressive with minimal dialogue and expression is a true commitment for Rousselle who easily delivers one of the most fearless performances of the year.
Certainly a cult movie in the making, Titane is a deeply hypnotic, astounding masterpiece that brave film goers should prepare themselves for. It’s a film for the daring and open-minded, the type of film that will leave some audiences walking out, while others will appreciate the film’s artistry and vision. It’s refreshing to see a film like Titane exist in these prudish times, as it also makes strong commentary on how men can perceive women. Like Leos Carax’s Annette, it’s a breath of fresh air to see visions like this still get the greenlight and the proper funding in an era where film is only seen as dollar figures. What’s also liberating is how a film like Titane, a French film with English subtitles can be picked up by a distributor like Neon and released into multiplexes across North America the same day as something big like Venom. Titane may not be everyone, but it ‘san extraordinary film that offers an experience that is both advantageous and groundbreaking. With a breezy pace of a running time of 105 mins, the true genius of Titane lies where you never know where its going, or know how its going to unfold. There are many stellar moments in the film that are going to lead to endless discussions in years to come, just a brilliant testament to the power of great filmmaking that consists of expertly done staging, outstanding performances, stylish camera movements, and superb editing. The use of the human body by Ducuranu is easily comparable to the work of David Cronenberg (Dead Ringers, Eastern Promises) and Steve McQueen (Shame, Hunger). These auteurs frame the human body the way Ingmar Bergman framed the human face.
Formally daring and never grounded with realism or literalism, Titane is a hyperreal experience that might not make literal sense, but it makes visual sense with its abstractions, and that is always more rewarding than endless exposition and routine narrative structure. The feminist commentary in the film explores how there is always a morbid obsession in society for men to be macho, women to be overly sexualized, and for society to be degrading. These are all ingredients for a highly sexualized world that becomes toxic and dangerous. The film does a stellar job in capturing these sociological truths and it’s done with sophistication over didacticism, and the film is never about the battle of the sexes with its feminist affect as it just lays out the philosophy of these forces in humanity.
Titane will no doubt leave a great impact and visceral reactions in your mind with its haunting images and timeless commentary. It’s a film that works so well with its brilliant directorial style that also becomes a mesmerizing mediation on lust, sexuality, humanities depravity , gender identity, and finally acceptance. Ducranou maps Rousselle’s disintegrating physique as it goes through many changes and disguises during her pregnancy, and how she has to hide her true feminine side away from Vincent and his fellow first responders in which her persona and physique and mannerisms already held both masculine and feminine sides while she was a dancer and in her private life.