Written by: Julia Ducournau
Starring: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh
Even when it feels impossible, every person deserves unconditional love from at least one individual in their life. One can usually expect this would come from biological parents, but that certainly cannot always be counted on, meaning it must come from someone else. This among so many other layered themes bring Titane to life as a difficult movie to watch but one dripping with incredible meaning and plenty to parse through.
Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), as a kid, gets into a car accident where a titanium plate must be fitted into her head. Now, as an adult, she still lives at home and works as a dancer at car shows, while also growing a taste for killing others. However, when a specific killing goes wrong, she flees and tries to conceal her identity to start a new life.
Filled with so many wholesome and terrifying surprises, speaking on Titane comes with so much difficulty. All of the meaty aspects of the story come with reveals made past the first act of the feature and it would be a disservice to take it away from anyone who has not already watched the film. In this review, I will certainly try my very best to speak as generally as possible, but watching this feature before reading on is highly recommended. This gets said because the gut-punch this film delivers works so well because of the unexpected turns it takes where it can balance being both unsettling and beautifully gorgeous at the same time.
If you have seen Julia Ducournau’s feature directorial debut, Raw, you can get an idea of the type of story you’re in for. Never completely straightforward and with plenty of body horror as well, Ducournau has proven to be such a singular filmmaker and while this feature will come with comparisons to the works of David Cronenburg, this titanic work she produces here remains her vision. An uncompromised vision and with this feature she delivers something exceptional in the way it displays the basic tenets of humanity and how the simplest gestures of affection can make all of the difference in someone’s life.
With Alexia’s accident in the car, the scene demonstrates she certainly does not have much love for her biological father. Inferences can be made as to what made her so angry simply seen through her eyes in the opening scene, but it leads to the important accident where she has titanium put in her head and pretty much becomes a cyborg. The journey she goes on can be seen as her trek into becoming human again and the way she stumbles in trying to reach this comes with its major obstacles. Finding comfort in other humans becomes nearly impossible for her, which signifies why she feels this bond and connections with vehicles and other metallic objects. She lost something when in that particular accident, or in another sense gained a different perspective she never considered before.
As any film can be broken down into three acts, the way Alexia’s journey exhibits a change in all three says so much about her particular voyage and how she reaches a level of self-realization in one of them with the most impactful one coming from the relationship she forms with Vincent (Vincent London). The unexpected bond they form begins with dishonesty but turns into one of the most uncompromising and loving relationships captured on film. This comes from both of them struggling to find happiness in their own skin and how they need each other in their lives for similar yet different reasons. The fires they kindle and extinguish demonstrates the push and pull between them where walls get broken down and a sense of unconditional love can grow. It carries this sense of subtle but affectionate beauty as they each fill a void the other desperately needs even if on many occasions the farce of them having this bond has the appearance of abject absurdity. In the end, it doesn’t even matter how they got in each other’s path. The importance lies in what they represent to each other.
As seen now in two Ducournau films, she knows how to display some body horror. Raw can certainly prepare you for what she loves showing within her narrative but Titane takes a step up. Certain images and scenes remain seared into my brain because of how unsettling and grotesque the imagery presents itself on-screen. However, as evident through examining the story as a whole, none of it comes without intentionality. The scenes meant to make you wince have meaning to them, which cannot be said for all films. Still, you must be prepared for those sequences and I can pretty much guarantee there will be at least one where you have to avert your eyes or close them completely.
On a technical level, this film is ridiculously well-crafted. The cinematography by Ruben Impens knocks it out of the park in creating a sense of place and visual splendor on-screen. It ensures the intimate story being told feels exactly this way in how it captures each sequence. The colors absolutely dazzle as it sets the mood for what occurs in those scenes and how it relates to a certain level of raw sexuality displayed. Everything in this feature looks marvelous thanks to Ruben Impens and his work with Julia Ducournau dazzles with every scene containing some sort of visual prowess.
Not enough can be said about the performances in this feature as Agathe Rousselle and Vincent London both give incredibly physical and emotional masterclasses in acting. They represent polar opposites in their behavior and how they inevitably attract in search of connection. It becomes difficult to even speak on the exceptional nature of their work because most of it occurs in looks and subtle line deliveries revealing so much more than what appears on the surface. Their performances become those where you have to sit back and comprehend how it can be possible for two actors to be this good at their craft, which makes it all the more stunning when learning this feature represents Rousselle’s first acting gig. To do what she does as her first outing as an actor displays a level of bravery I can barely even comprehend. With Ducournau wanting to have Alexia played by an unknown actor, it comes with the risk of not having someone good enough to deliver, but she absolutely commands the screen even with all of the eye-watering pain she must endure narratively.
On a thematic level, Titane offers so much more than can be talked about outside of this review and with a deeper spoiler-filled analysis. From the ideas around gender-fluidity, rampant toxic masculinity, and so many others, this film provides so much to think about. This ultimately indicates what makes for a lasting motion picture. With everything laid on the surface with other features, it leaves the conversation to be short and simple, but Julia Ducournau proves with this fantastic marvel of a film that she can meticulously weave so many fully realized ideas into one narrative. It leaves plenty up for interpretation, which will make you want to pull aside anyone you watched this with to talk through what in the hell you just experienced. This film offers so much with also being darkly comedic in so many instances, deeply unsettling, but also beautifully heartwarming. Such a sickly fantastic piece of work.