Review: Titane

By Christian DiMartino

Yesterday, for God knows what reason, I woke up at 3:20 am. I went to work from 7-4, on the busiest day of the week. I felt delirious. When I returned home, we watched the Palme D’or winner Titane, which features a murderous woman with a metal plate in her head having sexual intercourse with a car. Delirious as I might’ve been, nothing that transpired in Titane was a hallucination. But Lordy, did it feel like it.

Titane, the second film from provocative French filmmaker Julia Ducournau (her first film, Raw was no less disturbing but fascinating), did indeed win the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival this past summer, and I’ve been itching to see it since. It’s also very easy to see why it won. Here is one of the most fascinating, weird, and original films around, and yes, I have seen Lamb. Titane is an experience in which you’re always tempted to look away from the screen, whether it be because of its insanity or because it’s horrific, but you simply can’t. Ducournau aims high, taking her story to places you not only would never expect but also to places you would never imagine, and it’s truly a nutty feat that demands to be witnessed.

Titane will definitely be remembered as “the one where the girl sleeps with the car.” People know it going into it, and those whose curiosity is peaked by that concept will feel the need to see it, as I did. Yet this film won the top prize for a reason, and it wasn’t because the Cannes Jury has a kink. Titane begins in a way that is frightening and so kooky you might find yourself laughing. Stick with it though and Titane turns out to be something a bit more than it originally led on. Make no mistake: it’s pretty out there- one that isn’t for the faint of heart and definitely not for someone who isn’t familiar with a piece of European art like this. Its original concept just keeps giving, from beginning to end, but what’s surprising about Titane is that it turns out to have quite the bizarrely emotional center, and it’s truly a feat that Ducournau manages to pull this off so gracefully.

As the film opens, we see a young girl in the car with her father. She neglects to fasten her seatbelt, and he crashes. The crash results in a metal plate being, quite visibly, put into her skull. Cut to years later, and the girl, named Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) is an adult and a… car dancer? Yeah, she does this very risqué striptease dance number on top of a gorgeous Cadillac. It’s funny, if you knew nothing about Titane before watching Titane, you never would’ve imagined just how much she likes this car. Though judging from the way she gyrates all over it, it also could’ve served as an indicator. There was a show once called My Strange Addiction, and one episode focused on someone who was in love with their car. Chances are, Alexia might even frighten that weirdo.

Alexia has no real connection with humanity. But she does have a connection with metal, probably compliments of the plate in her head. She keeps a metal hairpiece, which she uses as a weapon, in her hair at all times; when in bed with a woman, she takes a liking to her nipple rings; and then, there’s this car. After murdering a guy (oh yeah, she does that too), she returns home to find knocking on her door. It’s the car that she’s been dancing all over, and when the car starts a knocking, Alexia gets to rockin’. How does that work, you may ask? Good question: I don’t know. But it’s certainly an interesting idea, isn’t it?

So amidst her car erotica and occasional murder, she immediately finds out that she is pregnant… with a car baby. She also drips oil. There is a good chance that many will turn this movie off after about the 10 minute mark. That, or as mentioned before, they’ll try to look away and more than likely shake their heads, but they won’t be able to stop. Following this, she ends up brutally murdering a household, but after one of the members escapes, Alexia is forced to go on the run. She does so by breaking her nose, shaving her head, and pretending to be a boy who has been missing for years.

Watching Titane, it reminded me of the first time I saw Being John Malkovich, and it’s not because both films are similar, but because both films are filled with wild ideas out the wazoo that just continue to keep giving. All of Titane is pretty strange but the shift in gears in terms of plot and tone is among the stranger. The father of the missing boy, a firefighter named Vincent (Vincent Lindon) is thrilled by his son’s reappearance but is also frustrated by his son’s total silence. We know the truth about Alexia, and we fear for how she may react to Vincent. What’s surprising about Titane though is the way in which Ducournau treats this storyline. Make no mistake: the film always addresses the big giant metal elephant in the room. Yet it also manages to be a story about loss and acceptance; gender and healing and opening your heart. That all of this is juggled in the same film with car and firetruck sex, is impressive; that it is all achieved successfully even more so.

Obviously when finishing Titane, the viewer will be pretty horrified and baffled, but the main takeaway will of course be in the story. At about the 10 minute mark though, it became clear that while the premise is certainly front and center, it might not have taken liftoff if it weren’t for the actress at its center. This film marks the acting debut of Rousselle, and this is about as staggering as a debut as you could come across. Not only has a role like this perhaps never been written, but it would take a huge amount of bravery to not only write and direct it, but to deliver it through a performance, and Rousselle really deserves some recognition here. There is hardly a second in Titane in which she isn’t giving it her complete all, and it’s a knockout. Lindon is also great here as a loving father who has issues of his own, but also just wants his life back.

This will sound strange, but Titane is the kind of movie I respond to. No, I’m not into car erotica (didn’t know that was a thing, nor have I seen David Cronenberg’s Crash), but this is the work of an artist with a thoroughly original concept that not only is the stuff of nightmares, but it’s also effective. It’s a premise that keeps giving from beginning to end and it’s a film that you will certainly never forget, and sure some might write this off as some artsy crap, It is honestly a work of beauty, with a level of audacity that I cannot help but surrender to. This film held me in its nutty grip from beginning to end. In terms of a flaw, by the end of it I wondered: why a car? By the end of Titane, I felt as if the whole story could’ve been the same thing and had the same impact if the car detail hadn’t been included. Is it because of the metal in her skull- is she just attracted to all metal? Was Ducournau simply setting out to make something utterly bizarre? Was there a deeper significance, or am I just stupid? Either way, it didn’t bother me too much. Titane is one that sticks with you, and it’s among the year’s finest achievements.

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