While watching Titane, it’s as though filmmaker Julia Ducournau is striving for collective, reactive shouts of 'what the actual f***'. And not only does she attain them, she stops, drops and rolls in them – bending you, shaking you, squeezing you. More than matching her 2016 cannibal-horror debut Raw, this is a dark, near-Cronenbergian meditation on human bodies and our love/hate relationships with them.
Ducournau clearly loves shooting bodies in whatever state, the gaze respectful rather than perverted. In contrast, Titane's main character Alexia (newcomer Agathe Rouselle) isn’t really turned on by anything with skin.
Agathe Rouselle as Alexia, an exotic dancer at a nighttime car show. Photo: Altitude
The film opens with intense close-ups of pipes and engines, dripping in oil – Ruben Impens’ camera moving over them with sensual, horny energy. You’re introduced to Alexia as a child (Adèle Guigue), irritably humming in a car before it crashes. A metal plate is grossly placed into her skull. A curled scar remains behind her ear.
Fast-forward to adulthood, and Alexia is now an exotic dancer at a nighttime car show. Her strange sex drive fuels her movements over a flaming Cadillac. Although she has an uncertain fling with fellow dancer Justine (Raw’s Garance Marillier), it’s the Cadillac she’s really lusting for.
As if all this wasn’t enough to absorb, the film suddenly stabs into an insane direction – paved with many queasily and hilariously murdered corpses. Ducournau punches uncomfortably close to the violence, reminding this critic of Brandon Cronenberg (son of David) and his squelchy film Possessor. She laces these scenes with a pitch-black humour that helpfully acknowledges the absurdity, contributing to an overall nightmarish quality.
The story pivots again into what initially appears to be a different movie. It connects a non-binary gender thread with a hyper-masculine firefighter (Vincent Lindon), who's searching for his missing son. And he has his own body issues too, of course.
Vincent Lindon as the firefighter Vincent. Photo: Altitude
Titane loses some of its metallic strength in the third act (how do you possibly finish a film like this?), but ends in one of the most bizarre and disgusting scenes of the year. Even more than the love/hate relationship with the vessels in which one is born, Ducournau captures that frazzled disconnect between mind and body. Often the former is a slave to the latter: ambitions burdened by the body’s demands.
Rouselle is electrifying in the first half and intriguingly reserved in the second: displaying a multi-faceted performance of a character tangled in confusion. Does she know what’s happening to her, or does she just accept it? It’s hard to tell. Alexia is difficult to engage with emotionally, her humanity rarely peeking out. She stumbles from one precarious situation to the next, doing anything she can to survive.
Most of the characters around her are either ice cold or burning hot, so there isn't much to root for. And yet, their experiences plunge into a shocking, phantasmagoric space where oil, metal, and mayhem fructify. Titane’s dangerous, aromatic fumes wrap around your brain long after returning to the light of the real world.
Reviewed at the London Film Festival 2021. Titane will be in UK cinemas on Sunday 26 December.
|What||Titane movie review|
26 Dec 21 – 26 Dec 22, IN CINEMAS
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
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