Femme Filmmakers Festival 7 Review: Titane

Year: 2021

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 Special Guest Reviewer: Darren Gaskell 

As the result of a horrific car accident, a young girl called Alexia has a titanium plate fitted to her skull. Upon leaving the hospital, she ignores the concern of her parents and focuses her emotions on their car. Fast forward to years later, where the grown-up Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) is performing as a showgirl at an automotive event. Her passion for vehicles has now been taken to the extreme and woe betide any overly handsy man who crosses the line…

The above paragraph is all you need to know about “Titane.” As a matter of fact, I still feel like I’ve spoiled it too much. There are many occasions on which the viewer is told to go into a movie with as little prior knowledge of its plot turns and twists as possible but in Titane’s case I would argue this is absolutely vital in order to get the maximum return from Julia Ducournau’s weird, wild and wonderful cinematic experience.

The initial design of the piece may be a gory slasher with an infusion of pitch black humour but soon the story transforms into something entirely different, a strange take on a cat and mouse thriller which asks resonant questions about identity and dives deep into the psyche of its main protagonist. As Alexia, Rousselle is nothing short of extraordinary, providing a hypnotic portrayal of a character who initially appears beyond redemption but draws increasing empathy from the audience.

There has been plenty of discussion as to the intensity of the violence shown in “Titane” but, as with many of these “see it if you dare” movies, it won’t meet the challenge set by hardened horror fans. Make no mistake, it’s gruesome and downright vicious in places but the over the top nature of the splattery moments edge towards the fantastical rather than the forensic. That’s not to say the casual viewer will embrace this but its win at Cannes – and subsequent sidestepping of the words “horror movie” by various commentators – suggests more than just carnage.

What’s more intense here, far more so than the stabbing and bludgeoning, is the raw emotion on display. An undercurrent of grief runs through the story and a couple of scenes verge on the unbearable in terms of the visceral thump they pack. Vincent Landon is marvellous as the man whose path will cross with Alexia’s in a way neither of them could have envisaged. Again, there’s an identity crisis at play of a slightly different kind as he struggles with the perceived masculinity of his profession while attempting to make sense of the jumble of feelings inside.

A movie about the need to escape in every way possible, “Titane” uses the surface absurdity of its plot to present an oddly warm and slyly amusing tale about how the human need to label everything is, quite frankly, ridiculous and that trapping individuals within terminology is ultimately counterproductive. Matters may seem bleak a whole lot of the time in this film but there’s always a sense of caring at its heart, subverting the usual expectations by which received film knowledge and the worst examples of human nature we hold in our minds warn us to brace ourselves for as the metaphorical walls begin to close on Alexia.

The collision of outlandish body horror, esoteric manhunt thriller and unusual relationship piece may sound like a, ahem, car crash but Ducournau makes all of the genre hopping work, driving its unique vision home courtesy of a tour de force turn from Rousselle and contrasting the grind of life with those shining moments which lift us to another plane for just a few moments. It’s often surreal, uncomfortable and difficult to watch but it’s also beautiful, hopeful and rewarding for those willing to engage with it.

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