Titane (2021)

JULIA DUCOURNAU

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

/, 2021. , , , , , , +, , , , , , , , , , , . Screenplay by Julia Ducournau, with the consultation of , , Jean-Christophe Bouzy. Cinematography by Ruben Impens. Produced by . Music by , , , . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

At the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, Julia Ducornau became the first solo woman to win the Palme d’Or (Jane Campion shared the prize with Chen Kaige in 1993), and if the jury fell asleep after the first third of this visceral, romantic horror movie it would make sense that they would see its outstanding merits. Opening with impressive strength, it begins with a car accident that injures a young woman’s skull and requires her to have a part of it replaced with a piece of titanium. The unsettling scar above her ear that the procedure leaves Alexia () with is one that she continues to show off with pride years later, performing as a model at some form of underground car show (imagine Fast And The Furious but none of the girls are Dominic Toretto’s sisters). Alexia also has an unspoken, deep connection to motor vehicles, as a child when released from the hospital after her surgery her first move was to caress her father’s car, as an adult she has a hard night after performing on the showroom floor and commits the swift, grisly murder of a fan who tries to stalk her before enjoying mindblowing sex with a souped-up automobile at her workplace. Within days she discovers that she is pregnant, but the motor oil leaking from between her legs and nipples tells us that this is no ordinary child that is growing inside her. The implication of her violent behaviour is that the titanium in her head has spread to her heart and her soul, she has no compunctions about dispatching anyone who gets in her way to their heavenly reward, but she’s also cruel with the woman with whom she tries to spark up a sexual affair. With the law on her tail thanks to her going on a killing spree, Alexia hits the road, disguising herself as a boy despite her burgeoning belly and working her way into the life of a heartbroken firefighter () with whom she can hide out, pretending to be his son who was kidnapped more than a decade earlier.

At night, now called “Adrien”, she removes the bandages with which she painfully straps down the indications of her gender, and by day remains aloof while her new “father” tries to integrate her into his life and work. What started out as a fascinating treatise on the cultural connections of cars and sex, punctuated by some very upsetting, grisly violence, descends into a painfully trite and wholly uninteresting story of a character’s learning to find love after having spent so much of her life divorced from human connection. For something that features so original a plot concept and so unforgiving a method of storytelling, it’s quite surprising to find it descend into the age old expectation that women who aren’t affectionate must be cured in the name of living up to the expectations of their sex, and then has an ending that brings it much closer to Blake Edwards’ Switch than Cronenberg’s Crash. There are a few logic lapses as well, such as wondering why was she humming like the sound of a motor before the accident in the opening scene, was she always connected to cars before having titanium inserted in her? The theme of woman melding with machine is abandoned the more we move towards the ending until we forget it even factored into the plot, while anyone hoping that the story’s hints at playing with ideas of gender will be disappointed to find that it does so only in the most superficial ways. It’s not a terrible movie, but the choice of the top prize at so prestigious an event as Cannes is confusing for the fact that the festival usually forgives a film’s flaws in the name of its reaching for something grand, and that’s not the case here.

Cannes Film Festival Award: Palme D’Or

European Film Award Nominations:  Best European Film; Best European Actor (Vincent Lindon); Best European Actress (Agathe Rousselle); Best European Director (Julia Ducournau)

Toronto International Film Festival: 2021

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