Julia Ducournau’s Titane is a perplexing manipulation of cold and steely body horror, armouring a heart-warming portrait of the innate need for love. Like her previous film ‘Raw’, French director Ducournau conveys humans’ deepest desires and fears found within our psyches through a narrative that is as bizarre as it is sincere.
Trying to condense Titane into a short synopsis almost feels like a disservice to the complexity of this masterpiece. But, nevertheless, Titane is a body horror about a pregnant serial killer who has sex with cars and poses as somebody’s missing son. And yet, may be one of the most resonating and moving films you’ll ever watch – only if, you embrace its absurdity.
The film follows the double life of stripper and serial killer Alexia, played with fluidity by Agathe Rousselle. The film opens with Alexia and her father in a car accident, resulting in her having a titanium implant inserted into her head. Fast forward to Alexia as an adult, dressed like your typical, cool alt-girl with a mullet haircut and wearing fishnets. Presumingly a cause from her psychological trauma, Alexia is a mechaphile who acts on her impulses to have sexual intercourse with motorcars, which incidentally impregnates her.
Just as you’ve come to allowing yourself to absorb the outlandish plot and violently piercing sound and graphics, the film takes a sharp turn. Alexia poses as Adrien, the son of quietly grieving father, Vincent (Vincent Lindon) whose son went missing ten years ago. Visually and stylistically alike to Gaspar Noe’s films, Climax and Irreversible, Titane has a similar air of energy and extremity, but with much more heart.
Ducournau’s story is brought to life by Agathe Rousselle’s captivating metamorphic performance, accompanying the pulsating soundtrack and electric visuals. Alexia is a character seeking unconditional love amongst a debris of trauma. Rousselle encapsulates a balance of bite and warmth that elicits an unexpected sense of empathy towards a character who could understandably elicit no compassion for Alexia when just words on the page of a script, or performed by any other actress. Rousselle grounds the fantastical narrative featuring scenes of murdering rampages and sex with cars in authenticity with an enthralling performance that radiates a deep sense of longing.
The familiar father and son dynamic, commonly explored in cinema, is explored in Titane too, but here dismisses the restrictive gendered stereotypes tethered to the paternal label. The on-screen relationship between Adrien who represents progressive ideologies, contrasting with Vincent who represents traditionalist views, is a tender depiction of fear, desperation and unrequited love enhanced by Lindon’s spectacular, multifaceted performance as a father desperate to love.
The true beauty of Titane lies in the thematic web crafted by Ducournau. The intertwining of trauma and the ways it can manifest in a person’s life through the link between a car crash and Alexia’s mechaphilia, to the surrealist portrayal of the rapid merging of humankind and technology told through the contortion of Adrien’s body with machinery. With delicacy, Ducournau layers a plethora of existential discourse amongst the chaos and absurdism.
The film claws into the psyche of Adrien and Vincent through visceral scenes of self-harm that they inflict onto themselves for contrasting reasons, but both tied to the constricting expectations held by society. Both characters attempt to keep-up their physical appearances to align with their gender identity – Adrien’s abusive rejection of his pregnancy as if it was malleable and Vincent’s addiction to injecting steroids into his body. These graphic scenes serve the body horror genre, evoking nail-biting and stomach-churning in the audience whilst triggering a mental awareness of the transgressive commentary.
Titane scratches at the surface of your skin, crawling along your arms and down the back of your neck and lurks at the back of your mind long after its runtime. As absurd, illogical, and mad as it is, Titane is human. Like picking a scab and drawing blood, Titane claws at the discomforting fears that blemish our minds – but in turn, bleeds the love and acceptance within us all.
Titane is showing at Home, Manchester and cinemas nationwide, certificate 18.