Directed by Julia Ducournau.
Starring Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Lais Salameh, Mara Cisse, Marin Judas, Myriem Akheddiou and Bertrand Bonello.
A woman strangely attracted to metal seeks refuge from the consequences of her violent actions.
Forget everything you’ve heard about Julia Ducournau’s Titane. Ignore the mystery generated by the deceptively simple synopsis being used to market the film – which features a dictionary definition of the titular metal (titanium, in English). Disregard the Palme D’Or win and the awards season buzz, which is often misleading anyway. Most of all, try to empty your mind of rumours concerning woman and car relations: it’s almost certainly not what you’re imagining, and definitely nothing like the infamous scene with Cameron Diaz in The Counsellor. Because to start watching Titane with any preconceptions about what you’re about to witness does the film a huge disservice.
The film follows Alexia, a model/dancer who appears at car shows, and is established enough to have a set of fans worshipping her. With a metal plate in her skull, the result of a car accident when she was young, Alexia exhibits a strange attraction to metallic objects, and a psychopathic tendency to act violently to solve her problems. Appropriately, there is something magnetic in Agathe Rousselle’s eyes; the actor plays Alexia with unflinching determination, and is effortlessly watchable doing so. Even when you desperately want to look away from the madness unfolding – and it is quite mad – you just can’t.
With the introduction of Vincent (played by the magnificent Vincent Lindon), a steroid addicted firehouse captain, the film actually wrestles its way back to a story with some reality – as much reality as a film can have whilst the protagonist is pregnant with what could well be a hot wheels car, that is. Vincent’s son has been missing for 10 years, but he never gave up hope that they would be re-united. When Alexia decides to pose as the prodigal son, Vincent is more than happy to overlook inconsistencies and abandon scepticism, even if his team of firemen are not. The blossoming relationship between broken father and surrogate child is fascinating, particularly given Alexia’s damaged relationship with her own distant father (Bertrand Bonello, excelling in a small, quiet role), seen earlier in the film. Honestly, if it wasn’t for all the strangeness surrounding the situation, it could be a plot straight out of Dardenne brothers drama. This is Ducournau’s strength, which we saw in Raw too: even in an unrecognisable world, strikingly familiar emotions power through the absurdity.
Of course, simply reading the synopsis could be enough to put people off, and the film makes no effort to cater to a specific or a wide audience. As entertainment, Titane occasionally misses the mark, languishing and repeating at will; and it takes some time to warm to the characters, or forgive some of the insanity that the world’s inhabitants seem to be ignoring. But past that, as a piece of filmmaking, Titane is maybe the most refreshing thing since Ruben Ostlund’s The Square, or even Leos Carax’s Holy Motors before that. Combining relentless energy with high powered tension, and squishing it all into the engine of a vehicle too unique to pin down, Ducornau pulls off something spectacular to behold. But in doing so, the director toes the nonsensical boundary line, never straying too far over, and pulling back to recognisable territory when it feels like it’s about to get too much. It’s a masterful technique, one that even David Lynch often fails to wrangle.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★