Synopsis: Titane: A metal highly resistant to heat and corrosion, with high tensile strength alloys.
Stars: Vincent Lindon, Agathe Rousselle, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh, Mara Cissé, Marin Judas, Diong-Kéba Tacu
Director: Julia Ducournau
Running Length: 108 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Often you’ll hear that a movie isn’t for the faint of heart. Eventually you see it and wonder what the fuss is all about. Then along comes a movie like Julia Ducournau’s Titane and proves the phrase entirely true. I felt like I needed to write my review of Titane as quickly as possible after I finished it because I wasn’t sure how long I could let the film stew at the front of my brain – it’s that much of an intense experience. Don’t equate ‘intense’ with ‘unwatchable’, ‘bad, or ‘irredeemable’ though, because those negative terms also get tossed around with films that carry advance word at how rough they are with the audience. You’re going to want to look away multiple times during Titane’s run time, especially in its blistering first forty-five minutes, but stick around and a rather beautiful film emerges as your reward.
I had to think a bit on how to lay out this review without giving away too much of what is going on in Ducournau’s film because even as a site that refrains from major spoilers, certain elements of the basic plot can spoil some of what Titane develops into. So I’ve decided to stick with the first part and most advertised section of the movie and then let you discover what happens after that – it’s how I came to it and in general the less you know about this one, the better. As both the writer and director, Ducournau (Raw) has a clear vision of where Titane begins and how it has to bend to get to a new and different shape by the time it finishes…and the best part about that is there’s hardly any foreshadowing to the viewer of what’s about to happen.
A car accident as a child gave Alexia a metal plate in her head, leaving a formidable scar that she displays proudly as an adult by wearing her hair up and fastened by a handy knitting needle which she also keeps for self-protection. Turns out she actually needs it too, while working in an industrial warehouse as a dancer with a specialty for cars. Transforming from a rather ordinary plain Jane to a vixen in high heels, fishnets, and a gold lame bikini, Alexia’s performance doesn’t just provide pleasure for the garrulous group of onlookers that gawk and ask for her autograph after. iI appears that she also has an intimate connection to the vehicles she uses as more than props. And when I say intimate, I mean…intimate.
Fans of David Cronenberg’s 1996 film Crash, an NC-17 rated film concerning people who are turned on by car accidents that I find totally repulsive, might be interested to see how Ducournau takes Titane one step further…much to our wide-eyed surprise. I’ll say no more about this piece of Ducournau’s overall puzzle now because it factors in later during spoiler territory, but she takes it all the way before easing off the gas. When she’s not getting friendly with cars, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle, in a performance for the ages that’s on par with Isabelle Adjani’s in Possession) is also using her knitting needle in a variety of different ways…on a number of different people. This is a troubled woman injured at a young age that likely never got the help she needed and a number of lives are paying for it now. Violence and self-harm reach its peak in a stomach churning sequence of events, giving way to the film’s second act that doesn’t feel like a change of pace as much as it feels like a change of attitude.
You’ll have to trust me when I say that the final hour of Titane is where the good stuff lives. Ducournau uses the first part of her film to see how far she can push the limits and, once satisfied, uses that last hour to reveal a more vulnerable and humane depiction of grief and connection. I would never have guessed Titane was headed where it eventually leads us but I was quite satisfied (and very exhausted from the tension) when it was complete. I find that the older I get the less comfortable I am with body horror; that is, watching horrible things happen over time to a person’s body, and Titane seemed to know this was my button to smash and smash hard. Strong stomachs and nerves of steel to the front of the line.
Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival (=Best of the Best), Ducournau became only the second female to win the award (it’s given to the director) and that’s a laudable feat. It’s a justified win in my book because the clarity in which the film delivers strong messages about acceptance and family is timely, not to mention the balance of extreme violence and unexpected tenderness is striking. This is a horror film at its core but layered with so much more that gives it purpose that nears perfection at points. Don’t be scared away too easily.