Visceral and unforgettable, Julia Ducournau’s Titane delivers shock and awe with a surprising amount of sensitivity and heart surrounded by body horror and pessimism.
Agathe Rousselle stars as Alexia, a young woman who works as a car show model. Alexia has a large scar on the side of her head from a childhood car accident, which requires a titanium plate in her head. While a string of mysterious murders occur around the city, an aging fire captain Vincent (Vincent Lindon) is reunited with the son he lost years ago.
It is difficult to write about the synopsis of the film without giving away major plot points, despite many occuring within the first 20 minutes of the runtime. That being said, Alexia and Vincent’s storylines converge in unexpected and bold ways.
Ducournau drenches the film in neon lighting to set the moody tone. The film contsantly keeps the viewer on edge at what vicious act of violence or unimaginable body horror will take place next. The atmosphere is well lit and clearly conveyed by cinematographer Ruben Impens.
Despite the inherent darkness of the events taking place, the film has an odd sense of sensitivity and gentleness. In scenes with Vincent, the hyper-masculine fire chief who regularly uses steroids, he is often dancing with a group of men. This is presented as jubilation and never as anything close to gay panic. When he is reunited with his son, he is often kissing his face and loving the boy he had lost. This only increases his fatherly feelings and never is presented as anything other than the love a father has for his son.
Rousselle (in her film debut) stuns as Alexia. Her occasional viciousness feels warranted while still conveyed warmth. While part of her feels monstrous, you never shake the feeling of her monster being built, rather than born this way. Lindon impresses just as equally. In addition to his sensitivity, he portrays Vincent as a man spiraling from his pain and is willing to ignore anything and anyone to get back that love and happiness. It is a complex role and one that he embodies with grace and experience.
The film has a lot to say about redemption, gender roles, accepted delusion and nature vs. nurture. To say the film is a straightforward narrative would be a diservice to the presentation of everything that transpires. Let’s just say Alexia has a special relationship to cars and that relationship morphs into another relationship that Vincent is also involved in.
Titane will not be for everyone. It is dark, brooding, confusing and can be extremely violent. But, if you are willing to take the journey Ducournau leads you on, you will find yourself blown away by what you have seen while also wondering what it is you just watched.