This review contains spoilers
If you’ve been keeping up with high-profile film releases from this year, then you most likely have heard the film “Titane” being thrown around in conversation. Of course, the reputation this film has earned has likely preceded any positive or negative feelings surrounding it. Luckily, “Titane” largely lives up to its reputation.
“Titane” marks the return of French director Julia Ducournau, whose violent and sensual debut “Raw” signified her as one of the most exciting and unique up-and-coming directors. With “Titane,” Ducournau has cemented her place among the top directors currently working in the film industry.
The film, which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival — only the second film from a female director to do so — follows the character Alexia (played by Agathe Rousselle) on her journey to evade the authorities after committing a series of gruesome and seemingly random murders. Rousselle embodies Alexia with an intimidatingly silent presence that is instantly magnetic and demands your attention.
The film opens with a young Alexia and her father getting in a car crash. The crash leads to Alexia getting a titanium plate installed on the right side of her head, leaving a large scar (“titanium” translates to “titane” in French). Alexia is unphased by this, though, as she is shown embracing the car and giving it a kiss after leaving the hospital.
The resilience and disregard for the outside world largely defines Alexia’s character throughout the film. Her journey lies in her ability to open up and allow herself to feel.
Cut to present-day adult Alexia, who has now become some sort of famous exotic dancer. We follow Alexia through a very loud and lively car show in an excellently executed long-take that is very reminiscent of the initiation sequence from “Raw.”
Ducournau takes the sensuality and sexiness from her debut and dials it up to 11 with a superb level of control as we watch Alexia perform her routine on an old-school Cadillac. The film is helplessly intoxicating, from Ducournau’s slick directing to the gorgeously vivid color palette.
Following the car show, an eager fan follows Alexia to her car where he admits his love for her. Alexia seemingly obliges, briefly making out with the man before pulling out a chopstick-esque metal stick that she used to pin up her hair and shoving it through his ear, killing him. This is Alexia’s preferred method of execution, although she is shown to be more creative later in the film.
“Titane” takes every opportunity to surprise the audience. The scene following Alexia killing her admirer depicts her having sex with the same Cadillac she was dancing on at the car show.
Ducournau doesn’t waste the opportunity to create the comedic relief that would obviously arise out of this situation. However, as we jump cut between the bouncing car and Alexia’s excited reactions, the scene seeps itself back into that same sensuality and uneasiness that Ducournau so easily executes.
After this scene, and a few more bloody chance encounters, Alexia finds herself on the run. She devises a plan to disguise herself as a missing child — a young boy who has been missing for sometime, long enough to where the boy would be around Alexia’s age at the time of the film.
She uses a roll of elastic bandage to conceal her breasts and ever-growing stomach, which gives the implication that she’s pregnant. She shaves off her eyebrows and breaks her nose against the bathroom sink to complete her disguise. She is then presented to the boy’s father Vincent, played by Vincent Lindon, and he identifies Alexia as his son.
The majority of the film is spent with Vincent, a steroid-using fire captain, and Alexia, capturing their growing bond and demonstrating the power of love among extraordinary circumstances. It’s an interesting elucidation on gender fluidity and toxic masculinity, but one that Ducournau never really fully commits to.
While the story between Alexia and Vincent is smaller in scale compared to the film’s more out-there moments, it’s here that Ducournau finds the most success. Alexia and Vincent find a way to love each other for who they are, creating a touching and moving love story that anchors the rest of the movie.
Ducournau has created an interesting and enigmatic film with “Titane.” It would be hard to imagine any other director being able to handle such a weighty and unwieldy story with such skill and craft. It’s one that will certainly be the center of many debates among film nerds and casual movie-goers for years to come.
With that said, Ducournau certainly has room to grow, and it will be exciting to see where her next project lands her. If it’s anything like, or even completely unlike, “Titane,” then it’s hard to see her going anywhere but up.
John Scott is the photo editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @JScott050901