Runtime: 104 minutes
Director: Julia Ducournau
Writers: Julia Ducournau, Jacques Akchoti, Jean-Christophe Bouzy, Simonetta Greggio
Actors: Agatha Rouselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Lais Salameh, Mara Cisse, Myriem Akheddiou, Betrand Bonello, Marin Judas, Diong-Keba Tacu, Dominique Frot
By Tom Moore
Julia Ducournau delivered one of the most iconic debuts with “Raw” back in 2016 that left stomachs swirling with its visceral cannibalistic horrors and showcased her unique atmospheric storytelling. Now, she returns with a unique body-horror experience that solidifies her visionary impact.
“Titane”(2021) isn’t necessarily light on story and characters as it captures young, car-loving serial killer Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) posing as the missing son of aging fire captain Vincent (Vincent Lindon) to escape the cops while dealing with strange changes in her body, but it’s not exactly straightforward with its details and direction. Although we see Alexia kill plenty of people, there’s never an established reason why or an understanding of her violent behavior. Her connection to cars that leads to her becoming a sexed-up motor show showgirl likely stems from a car accident she had as a child that left her skull permanently scarred, but it goes to intimate extents that really stretch your imagination rather than provide a deeper understanding for her character.
For the most part you don’t even know where things are going and “Titane” is less interested in divulging the details of its characters and rather focused on creating a wild ride that you either strap in for or don’t. Its story might not hit that same kind of depth with its characters like “Raw” did on the surface, but the performances from Rousselle and Lindon are phenomenal and bring out some themes and personal arcs that make “Titane” a more meaningful experience.
Lindon does an excellent job establishing the effect losing his son has on Vincent as it takes a devastating toll on his sense of masculinity. As his aging starts to make him insecure about his physical appearance and his hormone injections cause some sporadic behavior, Vincent’s view of masculinity is felt throughout his fellow firemen and is attempted to be imprinted on Alexia, who is posing as an older version of his lost son Adrien and going through gender complications of her own.
Upon first meeting Alexia, she’s kind of puzzling. Although she initially appears harmless, Alexia’s violent tendencies quickly surface and Rousselle makes Alexia such a complex mystery with the quick turns she is able of from sexually charged promiscuity to vicious and unrelenting violence. One moment she looks like she’s about to make love, the next, she’s stabbing someone in the ear with her sharp hair pin. Rousselle’s performance is full of unpredictability that makes every interaction she has tense and is one of the most committed performances I’ve seen. Ducournau definitely found the perfect lead for the insane turns Alexia’s story takes and Rousselle especially nails the transition of Alexia becoming Adrien.
“Titane” features a surprising amount of intriguing visuals and subtle character themes surrounding Alexia’s transition to Adrien and Vincent’s masculinity struggles that create a unique gender-bending, body-horror story. It’s really interesting to see Alexia attempt to exist within the intense masculine atmosphere of Vincent and his crew and there are even moments where she’s able to feel more comfortable with the more aggressive parts of herself. However, she never becomes either fully man or woman with how she acts and maintains this balance of gender that creates this compelling view of non-binary that is made even more intriguing with how Ducournau captures the character. The visual of Alexia posing as Adrien while pregnant from a sexual encounter she has with a car (I know, it’s weird) is undeniably striking and something that makes “Titane” a more vital and modern body-horror experience.
Even the way that Vincent’s masculinity is captured is interesting as it never veers too hard into being toxic. There are definitely moments where Vincent can be controlling and his influence on his crew makes him appear as this dominating, narcissistic entity. However, it comes from an understandable place of him losing his son at a young age and trying to reclaim that relationship years later. Not to mention, there’s a fun goofiness to him and trauma he still faces that make him a complex and likeable character. It’s also great how his arc brings out this idea of the terms “son,” “daughter,” or “child” extending past physical gender and being something more meaningful. It’s a really emotional moment in the arc of Vincent and Alexia’s, or rather Adrien’s, relationship and is a subtly impactful theme of gender that adds some thought-provoking depth to “Titane’s” narrative.
If none of this enough to say that “Titane” is worth seeing, the sheer amount of bonkers insanity that re-defines body-horror in the modern age will. The kills Alexia has in the first act of the film are absolutely brutal and disturbing to watch to the point where you’re instantly on edge for the rest of the film. Ducournau adds in some strangely hilarious moments with Vincent’s behavior and the pure craziness of some scenes that act as light-hearted breaks from the cringe-inducing horror and fast-paced insanity.
However, nothing compares to how Ducournau captures Alexia’s pregnancy as its one of the most stomach-turning unimaginable horrors in recent years. The way that Alexia’s body is slowly broken down as her bodily functions begin to mesh with elements of cars makes you instantly tense up with how visceral it is. It’s made only more intense with the ways that Alexia is forced to hide her pregnancy and every time you see her pull out the bandage to wrap and bind herself to maintain her disguise, you instantly tense up. It’s such a unique depiction of pregnancy in film that strips away the glamour and really gives an unflinching experience into the effects it has on women’s bodies from a female perspective. Now looking back at some of the earlier chill-inducing body-horror moments that “Titane” has early on, they were clearly just teases for what Ducournau was cooking up and it doesn’t disappoint.
It’s tough to say if “Titane” matches the instant impact that “Raw” had, but damn, does it cement Ducournau as a modern visionary of body-horror. For what “Titane” might lack in instant story gratification, it makes up for it in being a can’t miss cinematic experience that will leave you shook throughout and linger in your mind with its insanity and intriguing themes on gender.