Titane (2021): What the hell was that?!?
So…. Titane…. where to start? Titane (2021) is a French film that is said to be a horror film. It was written and directed by Julia Ducournau, who’s only other full length film released in theaters, 2016s Raw, has overwhelmingly positive praise. When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, it won the highest prize at the festival (which the presenter, director Spike Lee, revealed prematurely due to a language misinterpretation) making the director the second woman to win that prize, and the first to win said award without also being attached to a male director. And with all that said… this film is insane.
The film opens with a young girl being annoying to her father in a car. Which leads the car to crash. The girl gets hurt in the head resulting in the doctors putting a titanium metal plate into her head to cover the injury (by the way, in French titanium is ‘titane’. Get it?). Years later and the girl, named Alexa, is working at a…. nighttime strip club/car showcase. I think. She has a little… conflict with a stalker who sees the end of a hairpin and afterword appears to be… having sex with a car and gets pregnant. This is the point where the vast majority of sane people would get out of the theater as fast as they can. However, I am part of the insane population, so let’s keep going. Alexa has sex with a person a little later and then murders her sex partner and everyone else in that house for no discernable reason. Fleeing from the law, Alexa disguises herself as Adrien, a boy who went missing a decade prior and the boy’s father, firefighter Vincent, takes her in as his ‘son’.
On Wikipedia the film is referred to as a ‘body horror film’ and it certainly fits that description. For those unfamiliar with this term, body horror is simply horror revolving around grotesque events and imagery involving the human body. The most notable example of this subtype of horror are the works of director David Cronenberg, his most famous works being 1983s Videodrome and the 1986 remake of The Fly. While body horror is usually associated with humans turning into abominations of nature in the most disgusting and gruesome ways possible, that isn’t really what we get here. What we get is our lead figuring out a method and then using said method to break her nose, or her attempts to hide her pregnancy, involving using tape around her chest, which sounds and feels painful the first time and only gets worse every time she does it. There are some more fantastical elements of body horror, mostly pertaining to the supernatural… no, that would imply some logic… the anomalous pregnancy, in which I am split on whether the attempts to get rid of it, or how it seems to turn her belly into metal. So probably a little late to say, but this film is not for someone who is squeamish. Actually most people will probably wince at any of the many horrible things that happen or nearly happen to any human body, to the point where not doing so at all sounds like it deserves a medal.
Titane (2021) is something that could honestly be used in a film class to analyze as the filmmaking is top notch. The film’s cinematography is great, getting in interesting shots while not pulling punches on its violence. The dialogue is solid, but the film strongly utilizes visual storytelling especially in the middle of the film where the lead says very little over most of that time which creates a sense of unpredictability in the story. The lead role, played by Agathe Rousselle, shows both a quiet madness along with the absolute pain that Alexa goes through. The male lead, the firefighter Vincent, played by…Vincent Lindon….also gives a strong performance. In general, the acting is good.
Identity, sex, love are clear themes throughout, made obvious through the film’s many scenes involving sex and nudity, the lead hiding her true identity by pretending to be a most likely dead son, and the emotional bond that slowly develops between the main characters. However, it also has thematic elements that are harder to put together, primarily what all of the car stuff is about. It feels like we have all of the pieces to this puzzle but are just trying to find out how they fit. This quality in film is not something everyone likes in film, but when done right, can leave a lasting impression on a viewer. Luckily this film is one of the good examples.
The film felt very disorientating to watch, in a way I am not sure how to articulate. The best I can do is to equate it to another film that made me feel like this. That film would be 2013s Under the Skin. Both films feel slow paced, with many scenes that rely on visuals rather than dialogue, and have leading women who feel like they rarely speak despite having at least a few paragraphs worth of lines. Both also have some element of body horror in them and both have themes and ideas that are somehow both clearly obvious and vague as hell. And both films are not for everyone. But both films are definitely not something easily forgotten. Titane is difficult to watch, but will stick on someone for days afterward.