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Film Review: Titane

23 November 21 words: Jamie Morris

Buckle up – this utterly bizarre body horror is one hell of a bumpy ride...

Director: Julia Ducournau
Starring: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier
Running time: 108 minutes

If you've heard anything at all about Titane, then you probably know that it's about a woman who gets impregnated by a car. You may also be aware that it went down a storm at this year's Cannes Film Festival, with the head of the jury, Spike Lee, accidentally letting slip that it had been voted to win the Palme d'Or well ahead of the official reveal.

At a glance, it’s easy to see why the Cannes crowd were so enamoured of this film. Julia Ducournau – whose 2016 feature Raw has since attained cult classic status – is a gifted director, and gives the film a lavish, metallic aesthetic that runs right through to its very core. The humid, neon-lit cinematography makes it feel as if the whole film takes place beneath the underglow of a decked-out sports car, and it’s accompanied by a booming industrial score that evokes Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man

The similarities with Tetsuo don’t end there, either, as Titane is packed full of equally grotesque body horror. It’s a wonderful film to watch as a collective, as the audience gasps in unison at each absurd twist and repulsive image. But while its presentation is bulletproof, the film’s rust begins to show as its deranged plot progresses.

Titane begins with the catalyst of protagonist Alexia's madness, as she narrowly survives a car crash as a child and needs a metal plate fitted into her head. It’s never made entirely clear what kind of impact this event has had on her – is she driven by the trauma, or is it the implant itself that somehow shapes her behaviour? Either way, she picks up some nasty habits as she grows up, most notably an insatiable (and literal) lust for cars, and a penchant for violence. 

When an unprovoked killing spree goes wrong, Alexia is forced to go on the run, and decides to stay undercover by binding her chest and posing as a missing young man. Exploiting the grief of the man’s father, Vincent, she manages to pass as his his son, moving in with him as the facade escalates. Thus, Alexia begins her new life as Adrien – all the while concealing a car-conceived pregnancy from her new father.

Bewilderment is the overriding emotional response to almost every scene

This all occurs rather quickly within the first half of the film, before the brakes are slammed and the remainder of the running time focuses on moments between Alexia/Adrien and Vincent. Stars Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon each give intense and believable performances as two desperate individuals brought together by bizarre circumstances, and it’s interesting to see how their relationship evolves as the story progresses. 

By this point, however, the film is carrying far too much baggage for any of it to make any meaningful sense. The trivialisation of Alexia’s murders earlier in the story makes it difficult to connect with the narrative beyond finding sympathy for Vincent’s loss, and the pregnancy storyline only serves to further baffle the audience. It's as if you're only witnessing the story unfold rather than being actively invested in it.

The film's messaging is clouded by its convoluted set-up, and bewilderment is the overriding emotional response to almost every scene. Granted, Titane is never boring, but it quite often feels pointless, and never reaches anywhere near the same levels of excitement as previous Palme D'or winner Parasite, despite both films revolving around deception.

Unfortunately, Titane is not the masterpiece that many critics have been hailing it as since Cannes, but it's an intriguing oddity of a film nonetheless. Watch it if not only to satisfy your own morbid curiosity.

Did you know? Ducournau suffered from writer's block for a year following the release of Raw. “Somehow, I think I had to go through that in order to get to that level of ‘fuck you’-ness,” she told Backstage. “Whether people like your film or not is not even an issue right now. You just have to write it.”

Titane is in cinemas from Friday 31 December

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