Four years ago Julia Ducournau blew critics and audiences away with the controversial and visceral Raw. Early comparisons made connections between Ducournau and legendary Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg. Not bad company to share for a young filmmaker. And if anyone was worried that Ducournau might hit a sophomore slump they can be rest assured that is not the case. Her follow-up effort, Titane, has attracted all kinds of positive buzz. To date, Titane has made its way on to several ‘best of ‘ lists for 2021 with strong critical approval.
When she was a little girl, Alexia suffered a severe head injury in a car accident. Though she survived, the doctors had to implant a titanium in her skull. As an adult, she’s emotionally detached from her parents, working as a model at car shows. If she’s distant from people, Alexia shows a bizarre sexual attraction to cars. She’s also a budding serial killer. But when her latest killing spree draws too much attention, she assumes the appearance of a young man missing for years. As she ingratiates herself into the life of the boy’s firefighter father, Alexia’s body undergoes horrifying changes.
Titane a Challenging, Yet Engrossing, Visual Experience
Titane is two different movies in one. It is both a visceral experience and a narrative mess. Arguably, the easiest way to describe Titane is that it is an experience and assault on the senses. French writer and director Julia Ducournau (Raw) assaults the sense with surreal scenes of violence and body horror. There are at least a handful of scenes in Titane that will make audiences wince or turn away. In particular, a bathroom scene that involves self-inflicted facial reconstruction with a sink should prove difficult to watch. And there’s no denying that Ducournau is a visionary filmmaker uninhibited by conventional storytelling.
…Ducournau is a visionary filmmaker uninhibited by conventional storytelling.
Not since David Cronenberg’s Crash has twisted automotive metal been mixed with bodily carnage and erotic subtext. Ducournau takes her movie in directions that are bizarre while still strangely compelling. Like car crash itself, you’ll have a hard time looking away from what Titane puts up on the screen. Alexia’s bodily changes – both her androgynously morphing and chrome-induced pregnancy – stretch what audiences likely think of when they delve into a horror movie. To her credit, Ducournau dares you to keep watching as the metal growing under Alexia’s skin slowly rips through her flesh. In spite of the movie’s grotesque imagery, there’s an almost dream-like quality to everything on the screen.
Titane’s Bizarre Visual Experience Sacrifices Narrative Comprehensibility
However, Ducournau’s attempts to up the shock value result in a second movie – one that loses sight of any real narrative or character. As pure experience, Titane is disturbing, mesmerizing, and without much comparison. Comparatively, audiences may question the intent or purpose of the movie. It’s not unreasonable to wonder if Titane is bizarre and different simply for the sake of being different. Is Ducournau saying something about toxic masculinity? Or perhaps she is tackling what it means to be human. Maybe Titane intended to be a Rorschach test for audiences but that seems like a bit of a lazy excuse for lacking much, if any, narrative cohesion.
It’s not unreasonable to wonder if Titane is bizarre and different simply for the sake of being different.
Newcomer Roussell is powerful in the lead role. Specifically, Roussell’s performance is genuinely fearless as the androgynous, gender fluid Alexia. However, Titane’s treatment of Alexia is so detached and cold that one will struggle to ever really know much about her. Alexia’s decision to assume the personality of the long missing Adrien Legrand takes the story in an unexpected direction. But Titane’s murky storytelling makes it difficult to understand and or connect with the characters. Similarly, Vincent Lindon’s sad, delusional, and desperate firefighter ‘Vincent’ works on an emotional level. No one will doubt Lindon’s commitment to the role. Yet it’s difficult to think or feel about Vincent like an actual character. Like Alexia, Vincent feels like a strange amalgamation of traits and behaviors designed to elicit an emotional response.
Titane Demands a Viewing, Even If You My Never Watch It Again
Titane is exactly the kind of movie that finds its way onto critics’ “best of” lists. Ducournau’s cinematic vision certainly defies easy description. Completely original, disturbing, haunting, and often incomprehensible. Both lead performances are haunting. Somewhere in Titane are probably meanings buried in deeper meanings. But Ducournau’s story is so art-house that ‘meanings’ don’t often matter to critics. Shock value takes precedence over any kind of narrative cohesion. Though you may not watch it again, you won’t be able to stop watching once you start. Maybe Titane raises bigger questions about whether a good movie should ‘entertain’. Nonetheless, Titane stands out as one of the most mesmerizing movies this year.