Fantastic Fest 2021: TITANE is a Wild Ride to Unexpected Places

Julia Ducournau shakes the senses with her sophomore effort

After bursting onto the festival scene five years ago with Raw, Julia Ducournau returns with her sophomore effort, one that already shook the Palme d’Or free from Canne. A wild and warped film that frays the nerves, and gradually reveals its beating heart.

After a car accident leaves Alexia with a titanium plate in her head, the doctor warns of neurological repercussions. For a a child that already seems to have behavioral issues, and an obviously neglectful father this doesn’t bode well. Jumping several years into the future, Alexia is now a dancer, a transfixing feature on the hood of a car at auto shows. When an overzealous fan crosses a line after a show, we get our first glimpse of a perturbing side to her. What seems like self-defense, is just another in a long line of killings. A continuing series of missteps and murders ensures that the shell of a life she has constructed begins to crumble. On the run, she assumes the identity of a long missing boy, and after a dramatic makeover, ‘Adrien’ is returned to his father Vincent (Vincent Lindon), a long-suffering man who clearly needs to embrace the delusion his son has returned to him. Two broken people, become entwined in a bizarre new family unit, and start to work through their pain and problems. Oh, and matters are further complicated by the small matter of Alexia’s pregnancy after an earlier sexual escapade with a Cadillac.

Titane sees this self-destructive sociopath on a wild and warped journey to reckon with her fragmented self. From a distant and disregarding father (Bertrand Bonello), to the clawing fans from her days as a dancer, toxic male figures seem to litter her life. Small wonder she prefers the company of women and other more, auto-erotic indulgences. Cool and detached, Alexia seems more prone to acting on impulse than anything else. Most startlingly brutal flashes of violence that raise to the ground anyone who dared to get too close to her. After a deliriously demented first act, the film shifts gears into something altogether more moving. However twisted Vincent has become himself, through him Alexia begins waver in her steeliness, flowing from the endurance and purity of his parental love. Something that crosses not just gender boundaries, but those of blood too. Agathe Rousselle, herself no stranger to exploring more fluid interpretations of gender after work in the short film Looking for the Self, is as compelling as she is unnerving to watch. Haunting scenes as she binds herself to pass for a man, reflects at a visage she cannot connect with in a mirror, or contemplates the horrifying further loss of identity as this baby grows within her, transforming her further. Continuing the body horror that began after that early fusion with metal. Vincent, played with grizzly aplomb by Vincent Lindon (The Measure of a Man, At War). A raw and visceral portrayal of a man consumed by loss, and fighting against the march of time. The dance between this youthful newcomer and hardened presence is truly enthralling.

Only with a woman at the helm could two obsessions of the male psyche, the car and the female form, be twisted and used in the way it is here. Julia Ducournau is a filmmaker with unnerving command of their craft, looking to push boundaries and buttons at every opportunity. Every shot and moment feels both intended, but open to interpretation. Expert control over tonal shifts, with brutal scenes and sounds to make you squirm in your seat, alongside heart wrenchingly tender moments. Visually, Titane is a lurid and enticing affair. Cinematographer Ruben Impens delivers high-contrast glam and chrome, contrasting with a voyeuristic grungy feel, both complemented by Jim Williams’ perfectly struck score. Titane is undoubtedly the kind of film some people will prompt some early walk-outs. Which is a deep shame as that will deprive them of the whole picture. A warped Cronenberg-inspired fever dream morphs into a fableistic tale about pained people looking to fill a void within themselves. Strap yourselves in because Titane is a wild ride to some very unexpected places.

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