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'Titane' Review: A Brutal, Bloody, and Tender Chrome Monster (Featuring Some Vehicular Intercourse)

By Petr Knava | Film | January 14, 2022 |

By Petr Knava | Film | January 14, 2022 |


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Don’t you just love it when someone asks you to describe a film and you struggle to even begin? In an industry increasingly and depressingly dominated by a corporate assembly line dedicated to mass-producing creatively sterile iterations on the same blockbuster over and over again, it can feel like an almost revolutionary act to make a film that sits just a little bit outside of those parameters. In such stifling conditions, even a whiff of fresh air can bring your lungs back to life.

Of course, the United States isn’t the world, and as much as the entity that is the mid-budget original film for adults keeps getting squeezed in America, cinema outside of this one country remains relatively vibrant and continues to resemble, well, Cinema! Distinctions like ‘in the English language’ and ‘not in the English language’ are in many ways reductive and unhelpful, but nevertheless I find myself, these days, proportionately more than ever, watching films that aren’t in the English language. Again, that’s not to denigrate the wonderful films being made in English—Red Rocket, The Climb, Sound of Metal, I see you and I love you—and neither is it a defence of all the undeniable trash that you find being made everywhere, it’s just a question of volume of choice, probability, and access. There’s a lot of stuff ‘out there’ that goes to more interesting and stranger places than the industry highlights ‘here’.

Because speaking of strange and interesting…

(Minor spoilers follow in the next paragraph.)

Considering all the dreck that suffuses the industry otherwise, when someone asks you for a recommendation and a description, it’s so nice that instead of just being able to say ‘Well, it’s the twenty-second Marvel Cinematic Universe film. It follows the twenty-first. This character is in it. This character isn’t. They’re both good. There’s an evil character too. The way that good beats evil is fun’, you can actually struggle for a minute before venturing: ‘Well, the film is about a young girl (Alexia) who has a metal plate implanted in her head following a car accident and who then, as a near-mute adult, we see working as an exotic dancer at car shows before her barely contained feral nature comes bubbling to the fore and she goes on a serial killing spree, has sex with a car, and starts leaking engine fuel before going on the run while disguising herself as a long disappeared boy, eventually ending up pseudo-adopted by the boy’s grieving dad, a physically imposing firefighter (Vincent) who is also struggling with his masculine self-image in the harsh light of ageing.’

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Inhale.

If this sounds like A Lot, that’s because it is. But it’s also a little bit brilliant and very much deserving of attention from anyone who doesn’t mind when things get gory or intense.

Titane is the new film from the rapidly rising French writer-director Julia Ducournau, who just after two movies has already established herself as a visually gifted filmmaker with a distinct voice and a predilection for shocking subject matter. Between this and her debut, 2016’s arresting and excellent cannibal drama Raw), we might well be seeing a new master of body horror rising before us. It’s exciting. Despite its often graphic violence and gore, Raw was as its bloody heart a tender coming-of-age story with a strong feminist foundation concerned with realising your identity while navigating the fraught patriarchal minefield that is the modern world. Titane continues in this vein, emphasising also the subject of gender and its expression, what we understand as male and female space, as well as the nature of family and belonging. The film might be bathed in lurid pinks, red, and purples, and scored with often ironically placed pop classics (The Zombies’ ’60s banger ‘She’s Not There’ used so memorably in the film’s trailer is deployed in the film itself with pitch-perfect precision), but what powers it along—at least in its second ‘half’—is a genuine affection for its characters and their pains and hopes. The violence and body shocks may well be what grabs you most in the moment, but it will be the human connection—the sadness, the longing, the warmth of an embrace—that stays with you after the credits roll.

Titane shifts (ahem, excuse me) gears partway through. Powered by a truly impressive debut performance from 33-year old Agathe Rousselle (a model and journalist who co-founded the French feminist magazine ‘Peach’) and an equally affecting, hulking yet vulnerable turn from veteran Vincent Lindon, Titane is nevertheless not flawless. Its two parts can feel a little disjointed. The first, following Alexia’s rapid descent into a murderous frenzy and featuring her perplexing carnal sojourn with a car, is thrilling and lurid, yet seems to take place at a relative emotional distance. Once Alexia goes on the run, however—and especially once she finds herself under Vincent’s roof—things become far more intimate. Rousselle carries the audience through everything that Ducournau throws at us, and the first part feels so disciplined and controlled that its distance must be by design, but I couldn’t help but feel that a little bit more hinting at Alexia’s interiority near the outset would have given the emotional journey of the latter half even more power than it already has. This is by no means a significant mark against Titane, as both parts of the film are shot beautifully and clearly demonstrate a writer-director of great skill, it’s just that I couldn’t help imagining a slightly different version of the greatnesss on show. I suspect that with repeat viewings, however, that this disconnect will fade.

Ducournau has a fascination with the human body. She’s intent on exploring its limitations, its malleability; how it can imprison us and emancipate us; how it can cause us the greatest pain and the wildest pleasure; and the nature of its duality with whatever name you give that intangible essence that some call the soul. All these facets of the human body are on bright display in Titane. Regardless of any minor quibbles I may have had, the kind of bold and visceral filmmaking on display here should be celebrated. It’s a roller coaster of an entirely different sort to the one Marty Scorsese so aptly described event cinema as being these days. This is the best kind of ride. There are colours! Ambiguities! Raw, human emotions! There’s disturbing, indelible imagery! There’s fear and danger and violence and flesh and yearning and pain!

There’s literal sex with a car!

Cinema!


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Petr is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.



Header Image Source: Diaphana Distribution/Neon