French director Julia Docournau already caused a sensation with her directorial debut “Raw”. Your follow-up work TITANS This year she even won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, but her debut film turned out to be a much more well-rounded film. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Titane (FR/BEL 2021)
The plot summary
Ever since the smart, pretty dancer Alexia (Agatha Rousselle) had a serious car accident as a child, she has had a titanium plate in her head. Although she no longer restricts this, she has not lost her fascination for hard metals. This passion culminates one day in a wild sexual act; And Alexia becomes pregnant. But that’s not all. The young woman has a dark double life that one day forces her to give up her own identity and go into hiding. The desperate Vincent (Vincent Lindon) unknowingly takes her in. But the longer the two live under the same roof, the harder it becomes for Alexia to keep her true identity secret. Also because her belly gets bigger and bigger during the pregnancy…
The fusion of humans and machines is as old as science fiction cinema itself. It is often a question of whether or at what point a technological construct carries human feelings and should therefore be treated like a human being. But also about questioning where the border lies here. “Raw” director Julia Docournau goes further in her fantasy thriller “Titane,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes (if the film can even be classified into a genre). Although their story has nothing to do with artificial intelligence, it is still about a hybrid of something human and something non-human. Docournau, who is also responsible for the script, doesn’t do anything subtle in “Titane” in order to create the greatest possible fascination. Right at the beginning we see the protagonist Alexia as a child having a huge titanium plate implanted in her head. A short time later she has sex with a car (!). Yes, you read that right: a whole bunch of body horror filmmakers and the French directing weirdo Quentin Dupieux would certainly be very proud of this plot. Such a premise could easily be turned into absurd, explicit shock cinema (or, as in the case of “Rubber”, satirical). Docournau, on the other hand, uses the initial situation as an illustration of ultimate female objectification, but in her fetish deconstruction she forgets what is probably the most important thing: her main character.
Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) is fascinated by cars…
In the first ten minutes, Julia Docournau fulfills a not uncommon male fantasy when she lets her leading actress Agatha Rouselle, who is making her feature film debut, climb into a tuned-up sports car in ultra-sexy poses at a car show. To speak of a sexual act here is not far-fetched; And when you look into the audience, you can see in the giddy looks of the numerous, exclusively male spectators that this is a wet dream coming true for them. And even as a bystander, you can’t help but notice a certain eroticism in Rouselle’s movements; The break is all the harder when, after the show, Alexia obviously has sex with the same sports car on which she danced so imaginatively earlier. In a moment like this, Docournau’s intention works excellently: While a man didn’t yet know what to do with his feelings when a scantily clad, attractive woman was “mating” an equally attractive vehicle, the next logical step felt more “dirty” (a Close-up on Alexia’s butt, where traces of soot give an idea of what was going on between her and the car – only hinted at – nips any eroticism in the bud). Some things just shouldn’t be judged for their realism… Visually it only becomes too drastic from the moment when Alexia’s true background becomes apparent. Introduced by a scene that could hardly be better suited to the cinema year 2021, in which films such as “Promising Young Woman” and “Last Night in Soho”, among others, have been released or will be released in the future.
“(…) The break is all the harder when, after the show, Alexia obviously has sex with the same sports car on which she danced so imaginatively earlier.”
“Titane” is also about the topic of female self-determination and the way women are viewed by a patriarchal society. In this respect, part of the story can be understood as Julia Docournau’s answer to the rape and revenge cinema, when Alexia is able to free herself at the last moment from the hands of a potential wrongdoer, who then attacks the dancer, as the initial spark for her murderous existence reenacts their show too intrusively. And as is the case in rape-and-revenge cinema (this is less about revenge on a specific person and more about retribution against the men themselves), the boundaries are between the idea that none of it is right and that the victims somehow deserved it, too. It’s a shame that Docournau only pursues these approaches half-heartedly at first (and, given Alexia’s sacrifice, it never becomes entirely clear to what extent these were deliberately or randomly chosen) and even abandons them completely as the plot of “Titane” progresses. After this section of the plot has provided two particularly radical moments – one time a hairpin is in the center, another time a chair – Docournau turns to the actual focus of her story. The fact that “Titane” can be divided into two halves is not a matter of interpretation, but rather intentional – and is probably the biggest weak point in the film.
Alexia has had a titanium plate in her head for most of her life.
While the result of her dalliance with the car, which grows in Alexia’s body, functions as a lurid plot motor that hints at a twist (but does not fulfill these expectations), because in view of some martial body horror moments, one simply wants to know, What Since she actually slumbers within her, the second part of the script focuses much more on finding identity and the gradual growing together of a family-like living situation. Not only in terms of staging, Docournau goes back three steps here, changes the color palette from bright and accentuated to a brown-greyish mishmash and is much more adept in her choice of images than in the sometimes hectic first half. This fits the story, which from now on is less premise-driven and more character-driven. For reasons of spoilers, the background to the relationship between Alexia and Vincent (played very intensely by “The Value of Man” actor Vincent Lindon) will not be explained in more detail here. But even without anticipating important little details, the verdict can be made that “Titane” is not good for its dichotomy. His different production styles are attractive, but they cannot hide the fact that both halves do not find a substantive form. Both parts look like completely different stories, which means that Alexia’s character development is never tangible. It simply feels as if you are watching a completely different character in the first hour than in the second. There is no emotional punch as a result of Alexia’s character journey.
“While the result of her dalliance with the car, which grows in Alexia’s body, functions as a lurid plot motor with the aim of a twist, the second part of the script focuses much more on finding identity and the gradual growing together of a family-like living situation.”
However, that doesn’t mean that “Titane” becomes uninteresting as the running time progresses. Some of the film’s most intense interpersonal moments occur in its second half, largely due to the interaction between Agatha Rousselle and Vincent Lindon. The bond that oscillates between hard and tender that these two fundamentally different people form over time is repeatedly interrupted by consistent moments of body horror, which, given the premise, are not nearly as strange as one would expect. And the ending is also more of an understatement when it simply undermines the probably blatant expectations of its fantasizing audience – and lets the film end on an unexpectedly warm-hearted note.
Conclusion: Julia Docournau definitely creates a unique piece with her genre mix “Titane”. But since her film is divided into two parts, each part of which is convincing in its own right, there is no emotional punch at the end. The story about a serial killer who gets pregnant from sex with a car is not nearly as weird and fucked up as the premise suggests.
“Titane” can be seen in USA cinemas from October 7, 2021.