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Titane

****
2021

‘…has a dangerous, transgressive feel that makes it something of a trip to behold, even if it’s one uncomfortable ride….’

Yikes, it’s that time of year again where we hand out our annual award for the mind-zonkingly disturbing art-house film of the year. Previous winners include last year’s Possessor and the previous year’s Borders, and if you’ve seen either of them, you’ll know exactly how to prepare for writer/director Julia Ducournau’s unmistakably freaky-deaky horror opus. So warnings apply, for spoilers and more, those that chose to read further, even a basic, bare-bones synopsis may cause some alarm…

Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) is a serial killer. She kills brutally and without obvious motive. She works at some kind of motor-show in which she writhes on top of a car with flames painted on the roof. She kills an obnoxious male fan who attempts to stalk her in a car park. She then has sex with a car and starts emitting motor-oil from her lady-parts that seems to indicate that she is pregnant by the car. Alexia kills a co-worker and goes on the run. In a plot-twist that seems to lift from 2012’s The Impostor, she notices a wanted poster relating to a boy who has been missing for years, and decides to pass herself off as him. That means cutting her hair, taping down her breasts and growing belly, and breaking her own nose in a gas-station mirror. The  boy’s father (Vincent Lindon) is a body-builder who injects steroids into his bottom, but although he seems to accept Alexia, the boy’s mother quickly sees through her disguise…

Nightmare fuel comes in different forms, but Titane is high-end stuff, brilliantly filmed and originally conceived; while there are echoes of Demon Seed, this is very much uncharted territory. Trigger warnings should be loud and clear; if you can’t handle a narrative featuring hair-pin DIY abortions, then don’t even think about opening this particular box. Titane has a dangerous, transgressive feel that makes it something of a trip to behold, even if it’s one uncomfortable ride.

The winner of the 2020 Palme d’Or at Cannes, and with French dialogue, this is an unusual film that defies any easy explanation; a prologue shows that Alexia has a titanium plate in her head after a car accident she caused as a child, but that information hardly explains what follows. Titane mines a similar vibe to the JG Ballard/David Cronenberg collaboration Crash in terms of auto-erotic obsession, but goes off in an even darker direction. It’s an exhilarating, horrific film that you’ll watch with your hands over your eyes if you can bear to look at it at all, but it’s also 2021’s state of the art when it comes to out-of-your-gourd weirdness.

Thanks to Altitude Films for access to Titane, in UK cinemas from Dec 26th 2021.

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  1. I’m surprised so many people have tagged this either superficial or a shock-ride. I found it remarkably tender in the second half when two people with nothing going for them find solace in each other. The forest fire sequence was better than anything more outwardly shocking, a definite metaphor for the father’s state of mind, lost and confused. Brilliant acting all round, real commitment to directorial brilliance. Taking a lengthier look at it tomorrow on my blog.

  2. Not going to be showing at my local Showcase I guess but I might catch it at the arthouse. Been looking forward to a zonking piece of French cinema for some time as long as it’s not called Annette.

  3. Wow, a piece of “Titane” for Christmas, it’s oily ! I’m among those who were not totally convinced by “Raw” (exept by Garance Marillier, who plays Justine again in “Titane”), but undoubtedly Ducournau showed she has a potential in the engine. “Titane” was a shock, visually and thematically. It’s not so superficial as I read before, it’s clearly a question of genre corroded by the influence of Ballard in the first part as you mentioned and the Cronenberg style for the rest. Lindon is an odd fireman, who wants to see his boy in the eye of that girl. It made me upside down. I don’t know if it deserved a Palme d’or, but an award absolutely.

    • Yes, and anything that fuses Cronenberg and Ballard is good for me. I hadn’t a clue where this was going for the first hour, but it was utterly compulsive in hitting new levels of dread. Not for everyone, sure, but we adults should be allowed to enjoy such strange stuff. Hearing such mixed things about Raw, but will have to seek it out…

  4. Hasn’t Cannes grown out of this angry teen phase yet? I thought Raw was really overrated and even though I usually like this sort of fare I may pass on this. The trailer looked like crap.

    • Well, if I was 19, I’d want to see what all the fuss was about. Getting shocked seems less important as you get on. I didn’t see Raw, but the director is certainly a thing on the basis of this. It’s very stylish, and very strange. But yes, it seems odd the way Cannes lauds such offbeat stuff, the festival model has all but crumbled by 2021…

      • You have to see it anyway! 🙂 It might not be your thing, but it is different than Raw, more confused but more good/intense filming at moments too.

        • I will be checking out Raw, there’s clearly major talent here. Warnings for content need to be in place, it’s pretty grueling, but essential viewing for those seeking cutting edge cinema…

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