Titane – Review

Titane * This review contains spoilers – don’t read ahead unless you’ve seen the film *

When writer / director Julia Ducournau made her feature length debut with 2016’s Raw, she rightfully won praise and attention all over the festival circuit. Here was a woman with something to say; something different to offer; new experiences to explore. So much so, that her follow up film, Titane, was highly anticipated and hugely hyped up.

Initial trailers and plot summaries gave cryptically little away. Was this a film about a woman in a sexual relationship with a car? Was this a film about identity and gender? Ducournau kept her cards close to her chest until the film swept the festival circuit. There was the scandale of audience members fainting; walking out; being sick. There was the Cannes cock up regarding the award for best film. So far, so typical for the boundary pushing director.

But if Raw established Ducournau as something of a provocatrice, Titane seeks to go even further. Most critics, reviewers and walk outs seem to have focused firmly on the first half hour or so of the film in order to brand it visceral; hypersexual; absurd; nauseating. However, once you get beyond that first half hour, Ducournau veers off into something different entirely. It becomes a film that is both risqué yet slow.

The film opens with a young Alexia surviving a car crash with her father. As a result of her injuries, she now has metal in her spine and her skull. The crash seems to have given her a real sense of affinity with machinery – we see this as she runs her small hand across her father’s car and kisses the windows. Fast forward to adult Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), who makes a living as a dancer at car shows, where her affinity has evolved into sexual attraction.

What fans – and detractors – seem to be hung up on is the initial wild ride that Ducournau takes us on. There is so much “shock” thrown at the viewers, everything from full on sex with a car to an unsuccessful self-induced abortion; a serial killer storyline to a successful self-induced nose break. The film positively hurtles from one event to the next at break neck speed. As a result, it feels like it is trying to show you everything whilst saying nothing.

Where the film does get interesting, however, is when it begins to delve into notions of identity, belonging and family construct. The opening scene makes the young Alexia seem nothing more than a nuisance to her irritable father. Whereas, in pretending to be Vincent’s (Vincent Lindon) long lost son, Adrien, Alexia suddenly finds herself with someone who cares. Their dynamic is strange to the point of abusive yet – somewhere in her eyes – you can sense belonging. Vincent is struggling to cling to his hyper-masculine identity that has defined him throughout his career. Alexia is finding solace in absorbing someone else’s identity.

Titane Vincent LindonThere are some really quite striking visuals, particularly at the car show, which drench the screen in swathes of neon. The drug-induced thumping techno at the firefighters’ party feels like it’s been lifted straight from Gasper Noe’s Climax. Vincent’s house is curious shades of pink and red. But the problem is that these moments feel rather fleeting. Ducournau draws you in, teases you, only to strip everything back to cold greys and drab blues.

Of course, where the film is encouraging writers to use words like “Cronenbergian” is in its practical approach to body horror. As Alexia’s nipples drip motor oil and shards of metal glint underneath her swollen belly, we are asked to suspend our disbelief and – if you’ll pardon the pun – go along for the ride. The effects are really well done, there is no disputing that. They are made even more credible by Agathe Rousselle’s central performance. She varies from wild and seductive to subdued and vulnerable. So much is said in her silent reactions.

But despite Rousselle’s excellent debut, Titane really left me lacking. Yes, there are interesting themes to be explored here, but they are never done so in any meaningful depth. Storylines – such as Alexia being a hair pin serial killer – seem to burst onto the screen and disappear just as quickly. It throws punch after punch then fizzles out to something quite mundane. Whilst Raw did feel a little daring and edgy, I can’t think of anything that appears in Titane that has not already been done before. It’s not quite the clever art house film that it thinks it is.

Ducournau is clearly a writer and director who is keen on pushing the boundaries. She positions women front and centre of her films. But she asks bigger questions, here, than she can answer and has created a film that doesn’t live up to the shock value / French extreme that it sets out to be.

Titane is on limited release in UK cinemas.

Mary Munoz
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