This bonkers Palme d’Or winner would make David Cronenberg squirm
Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | October 7, 2021
Titane is probably the most bizarre Palme d’Or winner since Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. It’s one of those rare movies that might have you considering an early exit (I know I did), but in a good way.
Julia Ducournau’s sophomore effort (following the slightly easier-to-stomach Raw) pushes the body horror envelope to rarely seen levels. David Cronenberg’s equally car-obsessed romp Crash feels quaint by comparison: you don’t see James Spader trying to break his nose to conceal his identity.
Titane revolves around Alexia (newcomer Agathe Rousselle). Obsessed with cars from an early age, her fixation only grows following a collision that leaves her with a titanium plate in her head and a cool scar shaped like a brain. Alexia grows up to become a dancer, and her act involves getting well-acquainted with cars’ hoods. VERY well-acquainted. She’s got a one-track mind and doesn’t care who knows it.
Alexia is also a serial killer (some murders more justifiable than others). Not quite a criminal mastermind, instead of laying low the girl adopts the identity of a long-lost missing boy. The missing kid’s father (French mainstay Vincent Lindon) takes Alexia in, no questions asked. Even though both find a bit of peace, the situation can’t last — particularly given the unexpected consequence of a hook-up with a motorized vehicle.
Stripped of its weirdness, Titane resembles a fairy tale: there’s a forlorn princess, a kind-hearted king and lost boys reimagined as firemen. Ducournau is relentless in her depiction of mutilation, self-inflicted and perpetrated on others, but she does it artistically. This is not A Serbian Film. Or The Fast and the Furious for that matter (despite all the car porn).
I can certainly appreciate a film that gets a reaction from an audience, particularly among so much drivel on screen (Titane has more intensity in 100 minutes that the MCU in its entirety). Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about what’s the point of all this.
For most of its running time, Titane feels like an empty provocation. There’s a fair bit of toxic masculinity, but I would be hard pressed to describe the film as feminist since the protagonist’s actions hardly support the cause. Alexia’s behaviour can be partially traced back to a difficult relationship with her dad, but it’s not nearly enough to explain how her psyche works.
The top half is stronger. Ducournau chooses the road less travelled at every turn, including a macabre bit of slapstick with Alexia at her most murderous. Titane settles down with the arrival of Lindon, who seems to be up for anything, including getting super buff at 60. The film’s biggest achievement is convincing the audience to side with Alexia given all the bodies in her wake.
While incredibly outrageous, Titane is consistent. The suspense builds and builds until reaching a conclusion some may consider a letdown, but it’s perfectly suitable. In short, come for the ride, just don’t expect life-changing epiphanies. Except maybe, “always get protection for your car.”