There’s nothing quite like Julia Ducournau’s sophomore film, Titane, and its ambiguously disturbing imagery. In 2016 the world got a look at how she saw the world with her flesh-obsessed Raw, but she’s now delivered something that’s all the more shocking while also showing a stunning amount of restraint.
Titane opens with a young Alexia (Adèle Guigue) being purposefully obnoxious in the back of her father’s car. When her behavior becomes to much for him to bear he whips around to yell at her, taking his eyes off for a brief moment that results in a cut to the hospital as doctors are bolting a titanium plate into the side of the girl’s skull. The parents are told to watch for any neurological damage, and as they leave the hospital Alexia blows them off to passionately kiss the car window.
Fast forward ten years and the thirtysome Alexia (now portrayed by the wildly talented Agathe Rousselle) is an exotic dancer at a warehouse nightclub exclusively featuring hot rods. She’s got her fans, all wanting autographs and selfies, but her interest is more in the cars. Her side gig is using the hair stick that holds her blonde shag up (purposefully exposing her scar for the world to see) to kill people here and there by shoving it through the ear and into the brain. After her first onscreen murder she goes back to shower, a scene that is cut short by the turn where yes, she does have sex with a car.
That’s just the first ten minutes! From here we’re thrown into a wild ride that pushes the boundaries of gender fluidity, body horror, and the tenderness of found family to extremes most won’t be able to handle. As Alexia’s pregnant belly begins to swell (and motor oil leaks out of her) she wraps herself to hide from Vincent (portrayed as a saltly slice of beefcake by Vincent Lindon), a fireman that lost a son a decade back that she’s now posing as. No single aspect of Ducournau’s gender/genre-blending drama is expected, and yet none of it is surprising as we eke our way toward what I would say is an inevitable climax. It’s sweet, caring, unsettling, and rapturously repugnant in how it plays out and thoroughly entertaining till the end credits roll.
Everything is designed to lay in contrast with what is going on in Alexia’s person. Ruben Impens cinematography carries long sections of this quiet narrative, working in perfect contrast with Rousselle’s nigh-on silent performance, and a droning score from Jim Williams sets a mood that will help Titane stick in minds for years to come. It’s odd to think that a show of Rousselle emerging from the shower, dripping and nude, to walk tentatively towards a car that she finds sexually arousing could be beautifully executed…but it is. Images like this are dreamlike and surreal, elevating something that could have felt sleazy and pornographic in the wrong hands and instead playing as shocking but purposeful. They bounce nicely off of the other settings, particularly Vincent’s firehouse (and all of its insanely homoerotic dance parties), which rotates between thundering frivolity and reticent softness.
While Titane isn’t going to have the Oscar run that last year’s Palme d’Or winner received (it just isn’t as widely appealing as Parasite) I think there’s an audience that will hold onto this for dear life. It’s mean, vivaciously disturbing, and just entertaining enough in its portrayal of found family and sexual androgyny to become a cult classic at birth.
Titane is currently in theatres. You’ve been warned, so if you’ve got the stomach I highly recommend it.