More than just a gimmick, Titane is a twisted, darkly fascinating journey into murder and motherhood.
Disturbing, disquieting, and at times downright disgusting, Titane is not a film for the faint-hearted. But though it became infamous after reports of audience members fainting in the aisles, there’s a lot more to the film than shock value.
As with her debut feature Raw, writer and director Julia Ducournau delights in subverting audience expectations, and after a murder and mutilation-heavy beginning, the film takes a turn that sees much of the action thereafter take place in our unlikely protagonist’s own mind- and body. And that’s when the real horror starts.
Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palm D’Or, Titane tells the story of Alexia, who as a child was involved in a horrific car accident that left her with a titanium plate in her skull- and an unusual fetish that spirals into a series of increasingly disturbing developments.
If you’ve heard one thing about the film, you’ll know exactly what we’re referring to.
That’s right; Ducournau goes there and shows a woman take her interest in cars to a whole new level and inexplicably fall pregnant. To a car. Safe to say it’s a rough ride for all involved, not least the audience.
Jokes aside, it’s a testament to Titane’s direction that this scene which in the wrong hands would just be plain comical (and not to mention tasteless), is somehow one of the most powerful and unnerving points of the film. When Alexia slips out of the shower and nakedly strides toward the garage, overcome with illicit longing, audiences are, despite the absurdity of the premise, forcibly confronted with Alexia’s undeniable sexuality mere moments after we witness her casually plunge a knife into a man’s temple.
Yes, Alexia is a monster. (As if the on-screen kills aren’t enough, background news reports of a habitual “serial killer” on the loose suggest that she has been at this for longer than we know.) But the character is also a victim to her own sexuality while she simultaneously uses it as a weapon. This is brought home by the fact that many of Alexia’s victims pursue her sexually before their demise, and that Alexia’s indulgence of her own desires results in a painful, unnatural pregnancy that even her trusty blade can’t undo. (That’s right- in a particularly toe-curling scene, Alexia attempts to induce a miscarriage in the most painful way imaginable.)
Such insights into the character’s psyche are, however, few and far between. For a film that shows so much when it comes to violence, a surprising amount of Alexia’s story is left to the viewer’s imagination. We never really get a sense of who she is– aside from the car crash sequence we’re given almost no background to the character- representing one of the film’s few flaws. There’s nothing wrong with a little ambiguity to keep things interesting, but Titane reveals so little of Alexia’s state of mind and motivations that she can come across as frustratingly blank.
This is exacerbated by the fact that Alexia has next to no dialogue- a choice by the filmmakers that, while bold, ultimately misses the mark. Despite the best efforts of the talented Agathe Rouselle, it’s at times difficult to sympathize with, or even care about, the disturbed protagonist.
With that being said, Titane is not entirely a one-woman vehicle, and it’s the introduction of fire chief Vincent (Vincent London) midway through that kicks the film into a higher emotional gear. Without giving too much away, Alexia finds herself living with this stranger as a means of survival- but who, the viewer soon wonders, is really being used?
Where Alexia’s personality is muted- literally- Vincent’s could not be louder and London absolutely owns this unusual role of a roided-up, disco-dancing firefighter grieving his son’s decade-long disappearance. In doing so the actor manages to convey both tragic vulnerability and a slightly unhinged sense of menace that suggests Alexia may have finally met her match. It’s this tension that drives the latter half of the film, with audiences never quite sure where this unlikely relationship will go next.
While promoting Titane, Ducournau was asked by L.A. Times whether she considers herself to be a genre filmmaker. The director replied that she’s more of a “genres” filmmaker, explaining that “…it’s really about playing with all the tools and all the codes at my disposal in this spectrum of the human psyche and human emotions.”
This approach certainly comes across in Titane, as the film indiscriminately uses elements from slasher flicks, dark comedy, and even romance to create art that’s impossible to define. A body-horror shock fest, twisted biblical allegory, mediation on the anxieties of motherhood, and the most messed up father-son dynamic since The Empire Strikes Back, Titane is a lot of things all at once. The one thing it isn’t is forgettable and it’s sure to stick in the minds of viewers, whether they like it or not.
Verdict - 8/10