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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Titane (2021)

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

Writing anything about Titane is a challenge in itself. If you go over various reviews and analyses popping up over the internet, so many of them debate just how much they should go into discussing the film's actual plot as the element of surprise could be wasted. Titane needs to be that type of experience. You go in expecting one thing and coming out on the other end completely bewildered by the events through characters, plot and general batshit weirdness that its bloody carnage leaves in its wake. If you’re at all familiar with director Julia Ducournau’s debut Raw, a masterful coming-of-age cannibal horror film, then there will probably be a general unease that befalls you leading up to finally experiencing what Titane throws at you. Much like the works of Pasolini, Von Trier, Cronenberg, etc. they come with a reputation of really pushing the boundaries of visceral cinema that has you dreading what is about to chew on your conscience.

Now, this is where I have been debating on just how to describe the general set-up of what Titane is. Do I stick with the vagueness of the synopsis' and trailers we saw bouncing around before its monstrous debut at Cannes? Or do I give you a little more detail just to prep expectations a little better? Just a little taster to wet your palate? I went in on Titane knowing as little as possible, but after its premiere, more detailed plot descriptions surfaced, so don't worry, this won't give away too much by any means. But if you want that same element of surprise, then avoid reading ANYTHING about it. Including this review. But in order for me to make sense of themes and feelings I felt throughout Titane, this is the best synopsis I could come up without ruining anything. Don’t worry, what I describe doesn’t come close to giving away the madness that ensues from within Titane’s twisted metal heart.

Alexis (debut film role for Agathe Rousselle), a car showroom dancer with a metal plate in her head, has a penchant for grizzly murders and an unhealthy attraction to cars. She soon finds herself on the run after a wave of gruesome killings grips the south of France, forcing her to hide under the roof of a fireman named Vincent (Vincent Lindon).

Julia Ducournau shows her debut wasn’t a fluke, and although the themes and motivations of Raw are far more tangible and easier to pinpoint, she leaves a lot more ideas up in the air with Titane that leaves us with more angles of interpretation up for grab, challenging the viewer even more so. I viewed Titane twice in the same day, with each viewing helping me piece together the moving pieces needed in order for Titane to resonate a specific way with me. That’s why film is such a powerful tool much in the same way as music and literature are - that opinions and understandings of it all change from person to person. Titane had many points hitting me from all angles, reminding me of where I was ten years ago to where I am now. It unfurls itself the more you let it digest and grow within, tearing flesh to reveal who Alexis and Vincent are, but most importantly, who I was, who I am now, and who I could end up becoming.

Titane's first two sequences are important in laying out the groundwork for what is to come. It doesn’t begin with moments of shock violence as one would expect, but shows what is under the hood both metaphorically and literally. Twisting camera work shows the insides of a vehicle - its greasy, oily metal entwined and complex. We reveal a young girl humming and mimicking the revs of a car, as her father completely ignores and judges her, not giving her any semblance of loving attention. She kicks his seat over and over again yet he still does nothing. 16 Horsepower’s Wayfaring Stranger appropriately blares on the radio: “I know dark clouds gon’ gather around me. I know my way is rough and steep.” This effectively sets up Alexis' journey going forward - a journey of both trying to hide and reveal her true self, one that will hopefully lead to acceptance rather than damning judgment. It's smart foreshadowing that reveals itself the deeper we drive into the heart of Alexis and Titane. Shortly after this sequence, we see Alexis, now in her adult years, dancing in a skimpy outfit on top of a car painted in flames at a car show. The flames, her metallic outfit, alluring looks and dance moves invite us in as purveyors of exploitation and exhibitionism. But this is her trick - she isn’t a mere accessory to the car like all the other dancers, but she is a part of its complete appeal, pulling us under her spell as she seduces us. Although Titane takes shameless advantage of this seductive exhibitionism, it hides a better purpose that waits patiently for us at the film's final moments of confounded horror that is somehow both completely terrifying and entirely heart-warming all at once.

Ducournau plants many themes and big ideas within Titane, some with which I still haven’t quite been able to relate to one another just yet, which makes it all the more challenging. With themes of sexuality, change, trauma, grief and acceptance; Ducournau weaves key visual metaphors, allegories, character beats and themes expertly, making Titane all the more rewarding with each viewing - even if you have to grind your teeth and clench your jaw at the level of discomfort one has to endure through each moment of shock and awe. Alexis and Vincent are two damaged individuals that find each other at the right time in their lives, with both of them not fully understanding what love is - not knowing how to love or be loved. Both of them effectively need each other to fully grow and understand themselves more than ever before, that they can hopefully heal the trauma and grief that has led them to each other's lives. This is the sweet, beating heart that hides underneath the carnage of Titane that makes it all worth enduring for and what the film is really all about.

Ducournau's debut of Raw is a hard, queasy watch, with moments of blood-curling body horror pushing us to our limits. But Ducournau is smarter than just shocking for shock's sake, as she would instill meaning behind each moment of bloody gore that happened in Raw’s surprisingly smart and introspective message and meaning. Titane not only one-ups Raw in that department, but Ducournau hides these messages deeper underneath moments of impulse, extreme violence, unsettling body horror and general WTF moments. This is why Titane is a tougher homework assignment that ultimately rewards even more so than Raw.

Body horror is such a specific genre that can have a lot to say. Cronenberg, arguably the master of it, blends it with the themes of his films as characters go through extreme changes, etc. Titane also does just that, and a common visual theme that permeates throughout Titane is the extreme physical changes of its characters that both strengthen and weaken them significantly. These changes aren’t just for visual shock, but they have a smarter thematic purpose as these characters are literally undergoing the most extreme of changes physically, psychologically and emotionally for both their benefit and detriment.

Agathe Rousselle is simply astonishing as the especially complex character of Alexis. Plying her trade as a professional photographer, she was invited to audition for Titane based purely on her unique looks. The fact that she has no acting experience is a testament to her incredible instincts and bravery as a performer thrown into the serious deep end of a film. It also showcases Ducournau's insurmountable talent as a director able to evoke a performance that demands two extremes of the spectrum: one that is unabashedly who she is, while the other hides deep undercover, yearning to break free. It’s a performance that is heartfelt and extremely physical, putting Alexis through the wringer at every given turn. It's of the most impressive performances of the year that is dangerous in how she draws you into her world, not trusting you one bit, but eventually having to bare all.

Vincent Lindon provides the perfect catalyst to Alexis’ journey of extreme physical and emotional change. He is filled with grief and regret, a man who is trying his best to keep his head above the water as he struggles to keep a firm hold on his physical and emotional states. Lindon provides such nuance to a character that could very easily have been played and misinterpreted as yet another maximal piece of Titane’s puzzle. Thankfully, he doesn’t do this, helping the film and Rousselle reach surprising heights that can be heartwarming and genuinely sweet underneath the bloody, furious carnage that takes place. This is also all down to Ducournau’s skilled writing as well, managing to blend her big ideas effectively with the motives of the characters without it ever feeling cheap or nonsensical.

Titane is quite easily the most shocking, wildest film of the year. Hell, it’s easily the craziest Palm d’Or winner ever, even more than David Lynch's bonkers Wild at Heart. It’s both a surprise and not surprising at all that France picked this as their official submission to the Oscars for Best International Feature. They could’ve played it far safer with Venice’s Golden Lion winner in Audrey Diwan’s Happening, but they went with something so unabashedly risky and crazy that it might just make bigger shockwaves at the Oscars, subjecting its madness to an even wider audience.

Titane is most certainly not for everyone, but it is definitely something you will NEVER forget. Even if you can’t stomach it, it will forever be on the tip of your tongue and scrounging around in your head whether you like it or not. It’s funny, repulsive, touching, beautiful, ugly and downright spectacular that is both messy and incredibly precise in its intention and execution. It forces introspection as you unpack why it resonates with you. There are no wrong answers here, only personal revelations that challenge the needs and desires you either forgot you had or never knew existed. Long live the new flesh. Long live Titane.

Where you can watch it: In Cinemas and most VOD platforms (USA), In cinemas 31 December (UK), In cinemas 25 November (Australia), theatrical release most likely depending on whether it lands a nomination at the Oscars (SA).

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