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Movie Review – Titane (2021)

Titane, 2021.

Directed by Julia Ducournau.
Starring Vincent Lindon, Agathe Rousselle, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh, Mara Cissé, Marin Judas, Diong-Kéba Tacu, Myriem Akeddiou, Bertrand Bonello, Céline Carrère, and Adèle Guigue.

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SYNOPSIS:

Following a series of unexplained crimes, a father is reunited with the son who has been missing for 10 years. Titane: A metal highly resistant to heat and corrosion, with high tensile strength alloys.

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Body augmentation has long been a staple of science fiction, typically a male-dominated fascination with robotic limbs and enhanced physical capabilities. Director Julia Ducournau (who exploded into the conversation as one of the most daringly innovative new filmmakers working today with her cannibalism thriller Raw) is stepping into that arena here with Titane but with a bizarre, uncompromising twist.

Alexia (newcomer Agathe Rousselle, delivering a phenomenal performance encapsulating everything from a sadistically violent mean streak to body horror breakdown) has fetishized cars way back into her early years. As Titane opens, a young Alexia sits in the backseat of a vehicle mimicking motor sounds, which annoys her seemingly cruel father. Refusing to stop with the noises, dad aggressively yells at Alexia while paying more attention to her than the road, unsurprisingly resulting in a near-fatal collision. As such, this extended prologue concludes with a graphic look at surgery, leaving Alexia with a titanium plate inside her head and scars in the surrounding area, which doesn’t stop her from suggestively kissing the same vehicle she almost met her demise inside.

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It’s only the beginning of Alexia’s sexual attraction towards cars, as Titane picks up at least ten years later with a tracking shot showing off an erotic automobile show, complete with women gyrating and humping their prized exotic possessions. It’s also a sequence filled with cotton candy coloring, neon lights, and vibrant style, indicating the visual and sonic feast for the senses that are to come. Nevertheless, it also shouldn’t come as a surprise that Alexia is the most into performing with her car, if you catch my drift. Inside the showers after the show, parts of her hair inadvertently become tethered to a woman named Julia’s nipple piercing (Garance Marillier from Raw, here with a small pleasant role), which is somehow SFW compared to where the story is about to go.

Alexia fucks her car.

Yes, seemingly operating on a mind of its own, it drives up and makes itself present to Alexia with all the suave of a mechanical James Bond, who proceeds to get inside the car, experiencing pleasure (bondage included) as the vehicle rhythmically flops up and down. Of course, there’s more force the longer this unusual but undeniably arresting sex scene goes on. You see, that’s not weird enough; it’s also revealed that Alexia takes no shit from creepy guy fans disrespecting her privacy once the show is over, asking for autographs, and confessing inexplicable feelings of romance. Anyway, he gets some sort of sharp hair rolling pin shoved inside a place I won’t disclose here, so let’s just say it’s legitimately painful to watch with queasy side effects.

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Back at home, it’s made more clear that Alexia still has no meaningful relationship to speak of with her father. There are also reports on the news of several similar murders taking place, tipping off that our protagonist also happens to be a cold-blooded serial killer. Initially, her actions come across as self-defense retaliation against male scum, but following a night out with Julia that turns into disaster (and full of gnarly grotesque violence that is as satisfying as it is difficult to watch), there’s an air of mystery of what we are dealing with here.

This is also where Titane (collaborating with Jacques Akchoti, Jean-Christophe Bouzy, and Simonetta Greggio on the story)somewhat pulls an unexpected bait and switch, shifting tone and storytelling to an on the lam exercise that sees Alexia posing as the aged-up Adrien who went missing when he was a child. Adrien’s father Vincent (Vincent Lindon, another astonishing performance here and one that complements Agathe Rousselle’s in thematic context) seems to have never given up on one day being reunited with his son. He singles out Alexia as Adrien (now with short hair and other modifications contributing to passing off the deception) to take home from the station, insisting that a DNA test is unnecessary, claiming he knows what his son looks like. Whether it’s one man lying to himself or something he genuinely believes is up for debate, although it’s for sure that Vincent is hurting.

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Throughout all of this, Alexia has grown bloated from pregnancy following sexual relations with her car. So if you thought the human-machine connections ended with titanium, think again and prepare yourself for disturbing body transformations that increasingly become hard to look at, especially given the top-tier practical effects. Simultaneously, Vincent injects himself with steroids to keep up his strength for his fireman duties, allowing for a thoughtful juxtaposition between bodies that neither has control over. The section of Titane is also much slower-paced compared to the gorefest first act, although winningly so as an unlikely bond develops between them. Meanwhile, Alexia presenting herself as Adrien is delicately portrayed as a wrestle for identity, with freedom of sexual expression at the forefront. There is also a redux of the erotic car dancing that lands with differing impacts, mainly due to the reactions of those watching.

Admittedly, Titane occasionally lacks emotional thrust and feels as if it could have benefited from exploring slightly more of Alexia’s home life and what has driven her to live the life of a serial killer. Perhaps it would add more to the eventual connection between her and Vincent, giving the tone shift a more organic flow. It would almost certainly make up for how cold and distant Titane can sometimes feel from a character standpoint. Still, these are immensely captivating characters, so much so that by the time Julia Ducournau wraps things up, tying together various plot points, it leaves one rattled and bedazzled with prior terror transitioning to abnormal beauty punctuated by a score from Jim Williams that is simultaneously ethereal and haunting. It is a work of stunning acting with craftsmanship from a confidently gutsy provocateur in Julia Ducournau that should forever be allowed to make whatever movie she wants.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]

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