Posts Tagged ‘Titane’

Normally at this time of year you can rely on some worthy, solid, essentially safe and wholesome big movies to come out, as we begin the run-up to awards season – grand studio historical epics, biopics of the great and politically acceptable, you know the sort of thing. Maybe we’re still dealing with the long tail of the pandemic, but it seems to me there’s very little of that ilk doing the rounds – the big franchise movies from Christmas are still hanging around, along with West Side Story (this is exactly the sort of film I would usually expect to get a New Year release, but it came out in early December for some reason).

Perhaps for this reason, the arrival of a few more challenging and experimental movies in January feels like more of a strict detox than usual, and no cinematic experience currently available in cinemas is more bracingly astringent than Julia Ducournau’s Titane (in English, Titanium), winner of the Golden Palm in Cannes last summer.

Ducournau caused a bit of a stir a while back with the release of Raw, almost certainly the best French-language feminist cannibal social allegory of recent years. The new movie is bolder and more eye-opening in every way, but still recognisably the product of the same sensibility.

Here I find myself somewhat torn – it’s clear that Titane has been carefully assembled with the intention that it will have a certain impact upon the unsuspecting viewer. Going into too much detail about the film, certainly its opening movement, will almost certainly lessen some of that impact. But how to talk about it intelligibly otherwise? Hmmm.

Well: throbbing metal certainly features prominently, usually closely juxtaposed with all-too-icky human flesh – this finds its fullest expression in a sequence at a rather grim, toxically masculine car-show, with the toned and slender forms of the dancers undulating around and across the less yielding but equally enticing bodywork of the vehicles. The movie has a sort of auto-erotic fixation which has led many critics to compare it to the work of David Cronenberg.

Progressing alongside this is an equally provocative but seemingly more human storyline about a troubled young woman named Alexia (Agathe Rouselle). Finding herself needing to drop out of sight rather urgently, she takes the unusual step of disguising herself as someone who disappeared ten years earlier and claiming to be them, inexplicably reappeared. It struck me that this was possibly inspired by the real-life case of Frederic Bourdin’s impersonation of the missing Nicholas Barclay in 1997, but the movie ups the ante a bit by having Alexia choose to steal the identity of a young man named Adrien.

Here, if not earlier (and, to be honest, it probably was earlier), the film casts loose from the anchor of reality in a way likely to challenge most viewers. Adrien’s father Vincent (Vincent Lindon) turns up and is allowed to take Alexia home with him that very night. She has clearly received only the most cursory of medical examinations (for reasons which should be obvious), despite being in obvious need of attention, and throughout the rest of the film the police show no interest in questioning ‘Adrien’ about what happened to him or where he’s been for the last decade. It is, in short, not remotely credible as a naturalistic piece of storytelling – but then by this point we have already had a sequence in which someone has sex with a car (that preposition is not a typo), so you could certainly argue that Titane parts company with naturalism and credibility very early on.

This continues, as we learn more about Vincent’s job as the local fire captain. The fire departments of southern France seem to be run rather like feudal seigneuries, based on this film: Vincent announces to the other firemen that ‘Adrien’ will be joining the crew, despite not having interviewed for the job and not having any proper references – I believe this is known as le nepotisme in France. Slowly, the twisted relationship between Alexia and Vincent develops – but it’s obvious that this state of affairs can’t last…

This warped psycho-drama isn’t a million miles away from the kind of thing I could imagine appearing in a drama by someone like Almodovar, but this is very clearly a horror movie, and an uncompromising one. The opening movement is a succession of set pieces which seem designed to provoke a visceral response from the audience. I went along to the lunchtime showing at my local cinema and, as you would, took my lunch. When it seemed like the film had finally calmed down a bit, I relaxed and reached for my bag.

In the time it took me to eat a couple of sandwiches and a biscuit, the film managed to cram in a sado-masochistic lesbian sex scene, someone doing something incredibly icky and intimate to themself with a knitting needle, three graphically violent murders, and two semi-naked women grappling almost unto the death. This was some going. I should also mention that the film features as a motif grisly things happening in bathrooms – almost to the point where just the sight of a tap made me rather twitchy.

I’m probably making it sound like Titane is nothing more than a violent assault on the senses with only a perfunctory excuse for a plot to hold the various set-pieces together – almost like an art house, critically-acclaimed version of a film like Hellraiser II. As noted, it is openly and intentionally non-naturalistic in its plotting, and downright surreal and fantastical in some of its story elements. But there is more to it than just provocation and a desire to shock; it deals seriously with issues of identity, gender, and grief; in a weird way it is a much more humane film than it probably sounds. The performances from Rouselle and Lindon are remarkable – Garance Marillier from Raw has a supporting role on this occasion. (There is also a carefully-deployed element of black comedy which pops up at the moments you would least expect.) Nevertheless, it is a movie that many people will likely find too repellent and extreme to fully engage with. For everyone else, this is a startling, powerful, and memorable film.

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