I try to frame my reviews around themes the film I’m talking about touches upon and discuss how or if it enhances those themes’ discourses. Julia Ducournau’s second feature Titane is not a film I can discuss this way because it’s not about anything and never truly correlates to reality. Instead, Titane is a product of unhinged and gory auteurism, like if Leos Carax directed a Cronenberg film. And in saying this, I feel I must note that I do not enjoy the films of Carax but do enjoy Cronenberg’s — I think that sums up most of my issues.
Titane is the odyssey of Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), an exotic dancer we meet working a car show. She provocatively dances in front of hordes of men, and it becomes apparent she’s very popular. All seems normal until she brutally murders a man who aggressively comes on to her. Eventually, we discover this isn’t a one-time thing, Alexia is a serial killer, one who generally kills without rhyme or reason, and it only gets weirder from there. It also gets harder to talk about.
See, Ducournau only really has one gimmick with Titane: shock value. Everything after the first murder is entirely nonsensical, and yet to say anything specific as to what happens would defeat the whole purpose of the film, because many will adore its socking strangeness, but only when sprung on them in the moment. So, here’s what I will say. There are brutal murders and countless eye closing moments (the legend of how many people fainted during my screening has gone up to 20). But there’s also nothing to connect with, nothing to cheer on or empathise with.
You can’t cheer for Alexia; she’s a psychopath. And yet, when Titane begins to feign depth by introducing a father/child relationship with Vincent (Vincent Lindon), an aging firefighter, Ducournau appears to ask us to root for her newfound family. No matter which way you spin it, this is odd, and I just couldn’t be taken in by it. Vincent himself is very endearing. He’s a man who lost his son ten years ago, but he’s never stopped looking for him, and in this aspect, you can at the very least root for him, but other aspects make this avenue unattainable too.
All the while, as they slowly connect and we’re looking for anything to relate to, Alexia is changing. She is constantly suffering due to an interaction that is both a spoiler and beyond logical comprehension. But the suffering is supernatural and slowly destroys her body. Her methods of dealing with what’s happening to her ultimately become far more disturbing than any of the horrors she commits upon others. Which only begs the question of why? Why make something so twisted and leave it meaningless? Wickedly entertaining at times and funny at others, yet always crying out for an answer to that question; I still don’t have it.
But, for all the silliness, over the top violence and fake attempts at meaning, Titane remains impeccably crafted. Ducournau’s style is as much of a rollercoaster as her narrative but to a vastly more significant effect. She effortlessly swings the pendulum from dread-inducing brutality to genuinely funny interactions many times throughout the film. And perhaps what is most impressive is her conviction to the wildest parts of her story. Everything is displayed as viscerally as possible, which means all the body horror her fans crave forces its way front and centre pulling no shots. It’s a conviction that earns my respect and allows me to understand why this film has garnered the praise it has, but it wasn’t enough to win me over.
Roger Ebert once saw similar issues in the work of David Lynch, most famously in Blue Velvet. Later in life, he became a great admirer of the man. I suppose he saw his films from a new point of view and found some enlightenment. I find Titane cruel, bizarre, and empty, but I still respect it, and I hope one day to find that same enlightenment because if there is something here to love, I want to love it too.
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