Release Date – 26th December 2021, Cert – 18, Run-time – 1 hour 48 minutes, Director – Julia Ducournau
As exotic dancer Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) begins to act upon long-growing violent and murderous impulses an aging fire chief (Vincent Lindon) finds himself reunited with his decade-long missing son.
Before its premiere at Cannes earlier this year very little was known about writer-director Julia Ducournau’s follow-up to the excellent Raw. Two very basic plot synopses were released. One saying “following a series of unexplained crimes, a father is reunited with the son who has been missing for 10 years”. The other simply being the definition of titanium (the English translation of the film’s title) – “a metal highly resistant to heat and corrosion, with high tensile strength alloys”. It doesn’t truly prepare you for what’s to come over the next 108 minutes and that’s perhaps the best, and only. way to watch Titane. It’s very easy to start talking about the film and find yourself unfurling various details of the its twists, turns and general madness; often helped by the fact that, much like the details before the debut screening, it’s very hard to pinpoint Titane as just one thing.
Ducournau blends fantasy, body-horror, action, crime, family drama and more over the course of her latest feature with help from an excellently dead-pan, yet fearful, Agathe Rousselle as Alexia. Alexia works as an exotic dancer at a car show. Dancing on and around the likes of shining, flame-patterned Cadillacs – just part of the initial burst of neon colours we see in the hangar-like club – we see her gradually become something more like machine than human. Acting upon growing impulses she descends into a rage of violent, and far from clean, killings. The audible style that runs throughout the film is just as important as the visuals. And that includes the audible flinches that escape from the audience during many of the bloody exchanges that Alexia acts out. Such scenes are relentless in their energy and the extents to which they go, and yet somehow when put into the world of the film and all its slight dark weirdness never feels as if it crosses a line.
As the body count heightens we see an almost alternative story, that of aging, steroid-abusing fire chief Vincent (Vincent Lindon). After a decade apart he finds himself reuniting with his missing son. And while for the former the relationship is perhaps more about an emotional catching-up, if he at all went away, than anything else, the latter experiences a silent settling in to a strange, uncomfortable set of surroundings. Both hiding more than they would like to show. Each strand that Titane follows links back to a theme of identity and body image. Each one being something different for each character and yet all dealt with well, thanks to the film’s tone, themes and the performances that help bring such elements to life. Everything manages to contribute to this overall theme while still never setting quite setting aside the insanity of Alexia’s strand as she begins to try and hide more than just her killings.
Perhaps because of such shared ideas the characters feel more united in their various efforts. It allows for the more plot-lead arc of Vincent and the action-lead arc of Alexia to feel less contrasting and help to overall create a slightly more intimate feel within Titane for these two unrelated strangers with their fair share of differences within their own stories. Stories which are heightened by the details that we see. Personal, and sometimes brutal, details that have undeniably earned the film a hard 18 rating. However, it all links back to the idea of body image and identity.
Through the mixture of ideas and genres that run throughout the film it’s hard to pinpoint Titane as one thing. While many have labelled it as something truly off-the-walls and insane – which it bookends itself with with style and almost instant sensory engagement, making the madness the highlights of the audience experience – what’s not been discussed as much is the drama that lies at the heart of the film. The man reuniting with his son after ten years, their relationship and identities and the ways that the interact. It’s well-handled and gives the final piece an extra layer that prevents it from being purely sequential overload. When paired with the consistent elements of darkness, weirdness, horror, fantasy, violence and shock Titane is truly a film that manages to stay sane inside insanity.
It’s difficult to pinpoint Titane as just one thing, and perhaps best going in knowing as little as possible. While on the one hand violent and shocking, making good use of sound and visuals, it’s held up by a narrative arc which houses well-handled details of body image and identity to link the central characters and stop things from going overboard.