Titane review: Wholly original and wholly shocking
At a festival screening, 13 people fainted in their seats, but is the provocative body horror film all that repulsive?
In a few more words: Provocative, shocking, queasy, challenging, eye-popping, blistering and inventive.
This year’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner Titane comes with a reputation and with a warning. If you don’t heed the warning, you may find yourself in the same state as the 13 people who fainted during a screening at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this month.
Written and directed by French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, Titane is a film that is to be experienced by every cell in your body, alive to its visceral seductions and, more likely, repulsions. It is body horror, after all.
The question many audiences may have about Titane, having bathed in its blood-soaked monstrosity, is was there a point to all of its lacerating, extreme violence?
Arguably, yes. It will surprise many but there is a strange tenderness to this movie that could be read as human responses, albeit drastic ones, to trauma and pain. Underneath the sadism and grotesquerie, there is something not necessarily redemptive or relatable, but compassionate.
And it’s to Ducournau’s mastery that she can invoke even a sliver of empathy for a character we’ve seen commit horrendous acts onto others and herself.
As a young child, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) was injured in a horrific car crash that leaves her with a titanium plate in her head. Walking out of the hospital, she approaches the family’s car and lovingly strokes it as if it was a pony.
As an adult, Alexia works as a dancer at car shows and is a minor celebrity in the revhead world. After a fan stalks her to her car and demands a kiss, she dispatches him in brutal fashion.
Returning to the car arena afterwards, she copulates with a low-rider car. The wild scene is intoxicating and repellent all at once – and no one is out to kink-shame anybody, but the sweaty gyrations really are something else.
Comparisons to David Cronenberg, especially to his 1996 film Crash about people who are sexually aroused by car crashes, don’t capture Titane, which frames Alexia’s story through this prism of incomprehensible attraction to automobiles, and the resulting magical realism pregnancy which manifests in car fluid leaking from her body.
Titane is not a conventional movie in which you attempt to eke out meaning or even internal logic because Alexia will make choices that don’t make any traditional sense. But those plot contrivances are not the point.
When Alexia is forced to flee and disguises herself as the returned missing son of fire captain Vincent (Vincent Lindon), Titane moves into a different speed. No less strange or uneasy, but now the violence is punctuated with these moments of connection between two very broken people.
That’s where the tenderness arises in Ducournau’s twisted world – that even someone as objectionable as Alexia can and deserves to be loved.
Titane’s visuals are striking and heady – from the slow-motion dancefloor movements of Vincent’s crew of young, fit firefighters to the intensity of close-ups of Alexia’s bruised face and destroyed body.
It’s a film that is always stimulating.
You may find yourself watching through your fingers or unable to suppress your audible gasps. You may genuinely feel nauseous to the point of vomiting. But Titane looks, feels and is wholly original and confident – and that’s something so very rare in cinema.
Titane is in cinemas now
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Originally published as Titane review: Wholly original and wholly shocking
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