A young girl is riding in a speeding car with her father when it crashes, killing him and leaving her damaged—physically (she’s left with a titanium plate in her head) and emotionally (she hates men but loves motor vehicles). Flash-forward a couple of decades, and Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) is all grown up.
She’s a famous erotic dancer shaking her stuff at high-end car shows—think Tawny Kitaen meets Dita Von Teese—and in her spare time, she murders her amorous admirers with a sharp chopstick she keeps in her hair. Following a particularly wild performance on the flame-painted hood of a classic Cadillac, the car follows Alexia home and seduces her. The mismatched couple doesn’t use protection—not even a seatbelt—and the girl is left knocked up while the V8 peels off without so much as a parting honk.
Worse still, Alexia becomes a suspect in the string of mysterious murders. What to do? She decides to pose as the long-lost son of grieving fire captain Vincent (Vincent Lindon) by changing her appearance (even giving herself a new nose in a cringe-inducing gore scene) and moves into his dreary digs. Now known as Adrien, Alexia disguises her female (and pregnant) body with a tight ace bandage wrap and pretends to be a traumatized mute, so she doesn’t have to talk to anyone. The ruse works—either that or Vincent is so enamored with the idea of Adrien’s return, he doesn’t ask any questions and doesn’t ask for any genetic testing.
Blending Cronenbergian Crash vibes with Bart Layton’s documentary The Imposter, Titane is intriguing—but unfortunately, it falls short when it comes to emotional engagement. The leap in time from Alexia’s childhood trauma to her as a fully-formed Caddy-boinking, serial-killing liar and fugitive leaves the viewer titillated by the bizarre circumstances and shocking set pieces, but not psychologically involved. There’s no character development for Alexia. Vincent is more sympathetic, but he, too, lacks the expected depth. Still, the acting from both is impressive—this is Rousselle’s feature debut, and she holds her own with the lauded Lindon, who’s won several Cannes and César Awards.
Writer-director Julia Ducournau made a splash five years ago with her cannibal coming-of-age tale, Raw. Raw won the coveted FIPRESCI prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and 22 other festival and critics’ awards. Titane just won the Palme d’Or. Both Raw and Titane explore unconventional sexuality in remarkable and commendable ways, using the body horror subgenre to great effect. However, they are films that I admire more than I actually like. Both are stunningly visual and showcase moments that shock and dazzle—but both also have long, ponderous second acts and convoluted plots. Fortunately, Titane’s perfect (if predictable) ending pays off.
If you are a fan of Ducournau or/and shock cinema, Titane is worth watching for its uniqueness, visual panache, and its acting performances—but not much else.
Titane opens October 1, 2021