Julia Ducournau’s sophomore feature Titane is certainly one of the year’s most original movies and a compelling look at the transformational power of love and belonging.
It’s difficult to discuss Titane without risking to spoil the film’s insane plot, one that never veers into predictability. But what makes Titane a rewarding, though certainly challenging experience, is Ducournau’s sublime directorial vision that refuses to spoon feed its audiences and challenges them to piece together the film’s themes while commanding their attention even when what happens on screen seems so far away from reality. As crazy as the plot is, Ducournau grounds it in raw emotion and a deeply engaging protagonist in constant search for identity, love and belonging.
There are different ways to interpret Titane, particularly because it can be enjoyed on multiple levels. At a superficial level, this is an expertly crafted horror film that never fails to keep viewers invested in its characters, events and twists. At a deeper level, this is a character study that employs symbolic, almost sci-fi devices to tell a heartfelt story despite all the violence and gory sequences that will surely not be for everyone.
The film opens with a violent automobile accident which changes the life of Alexia forever. To save her deformed skull, a titanium plate is placed behind her right ear. As she grows up, she embarks on a journey of self discovery and is forced to make a series of hard choices that will haunt her for the rest of her life.
Perhaps the best way to describe the film is that it’s a story of transition: transition from machine to human, from heartlessness to yearning for love, from being lost to finding and shaping one’s identity, from being rootless to finding and appreciating what it means to belong. None of these transitions are presented directly, and that’s exactly what makes Titane a rewarding experience that both entertains and inspires – a bold, inventive fable that showcases a new generation of filmmakers with uncompromising vision and a knack for out-of-the-box storytelling.
An unexpected winner of the Palme d’or at Cannes this year, Titane deserves to be celebrated for its uniqueness and unconventional approach that succeeds in subverting expectations all along. Not a single twist and turn in Titane is predictable, and yet even when the film seems to delve deeper in its wild premise, it always works thanks to the sublime direction and the astonishing performances that are so impeccable that they make the script all the more convincing, as crazy as it sounds.
As Alexia, Agathe Rousselle is astonishing in her commitment to the role. She masterfully embodies the character’s journey from machine-like instincts to the torments of being human: the constant yearning for love, a physical and emotional space, and a sense of purpose. Her raw, unflinching performance is matched by a wonderful Vincent Lindon who delivers one of his best performances as a loving, yet deranged, fireman suffering a personal tragedy.
Titane is both an entertaining horror flick as well as a rumination on themes of identity, paternal love, and lingering questions of what makes us truly human. A specific narrative device, Alexia being pregnant after having sex with a car, brilliantly drives home the film’s main point, one that addresses how love, in all shapes and forms, is what truly makes us alive. In being able to love, connect and feel for one another, do we get to feel the pulse of life within.
Bottom line: A crazy, wildly original character study, Titane is not for the faint-hearted nor those looking for easy answers. A subversive film that shows a director in full command of her craft, this is brilliant filmmaking that, while not for everyone, opens doors for challenging fare and bolder cinematic voices looking to tell their stories without pandering to their audiences.
The review is from the Toronto International Film Festival. NEON will release Titane on October 1.
Photo: Carole Bethuel/NEON