“Titane” – Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) has a provocative job. She’s a car model, a scantily clad one. At the end of a typical shift, male fans – hoping for a selfie, an autograph, or a date – herd towards Alexia like starry-eyed teenagers. For our edgy, seductive 20-something blonde siren, she just wants a shower to rinse off the figurative stink and get home. This woman is on the move.
Writer/director Julia Ducournau is on the move too. Her career is rocketing straight up. Ducournau’s veterinarian student-turned-cannibal head turner “Raw” (2016) captivated audiences and critics alike, and her new film, “Titane” – that takes sharp, mind-bending twists as well – won the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize, the 2021 Palme d’Or.
Ducournau is gutsy and fearless, and her demented demolition derby travels through bizarre and head-scratching happenings. No question, this 108-minute midnight-madness, art house flick (that doubles as a social commentary) is impossible to predict, scene to scene and moment to moment.
“Raw” drags us through Justine’s (Garance Marillier) physical and emotional journeys through vet school and unsettling hunger. Even though Justine’s discoveries are shocking, Ducournau’s first narrative feature is a grounded one. You might shake your head and scream “No, no, no” inside your head (or out loud after the film), but you have to admit, Justine’s story is plausible.
Ooof. Does your dating app have a cannibal filter?
That’s not the case with Alexia. Her arc is fantastical and defies reason through treks into sicko science-fiction body horror, but the script takes an enormous leap through Alexia’s simple decision during the 2nd act.
Our lead finds herself on the run. To find safekeeping, she finds herself surrounded by an entirely different group of men, led by Vincent (Vincent London), a 50 or 60-something alpha male. Through her chosen profession – that she was assumedly drawn to after a life-altering incident as a kid – eager, beta fanboys are the primary (and completely unwanted) source of her contact with men. Now, she finds herself surrounded by guys who work in one of the most masculine professions on the planet, and Alexia now faces a stark comparison between the two populaces.
How does she fit in? What is her place in the world? Should she be fearful or search for acceptance?
Even though Alexia carries out appalling acts before connecting with Vincent, we feel distressed for her circumstance, not only for her safety within her uncertain macho environment but also for the physiological changes spreading through her body that are not unlike a David Cronenberg fever dream.
Both Rousselle and London give brave and harrowing performances that are exceedingly physical and intensely visceral. They play a pair of emotionally fragmented people thrown together through the most unexpected circumstances. Julia wisely spends precious screen time with Alexia and Vincent suffering through their individual carnal struggles. They develop a symbiotic relationship out of pure needs, for vastly different reasons, for sure. In a way, they fall into a “The Scorpion and the Frog”-like tale, with Alexia being former, while Vincent is the latter.
“Titane” is a challenging and surprising film, so I’ve been deliberately cagey about its finer details. Ducournau – accompanied by a hypnotizing score and mind-bending visuals – yanks us in several directions on this highway to claustrophobic hell. She pushes the pedal to the metal as we race and then repeatedly brake to observe intensely personal themes like female sexualization, parent-child strife, and gender identity through a narrative that you couldn’t begin to dream up, even if you hired 100 writers, philosophers, artists, and psychotherapists and sent them on a 30-day hallucinatory retreat.
It’s a horrifying and hypnotic ride. Buckle up!
⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2 out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Directed by: Julia Ducournau
Written by: Julia Docournau, Jacques Akchoti, and Simonetta Greggio
Starring: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, and Garance Marillier
Runtime: 108 minutes
Image credits: NEON