Nothing’s Weirder or Wilder Than 2021’s ‘Titane’ (Movie Review)

This year’s recipient of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes International Film Festival, Titane, is filmmaker Julia Ducournau’s follow-up to her 2016 feature debut, Raw. That film focused on a vegan who becomes a predatory cannibal after her first experience with meat. Turns out Raw was merely a (excuse the pun) tasty appetizer to the kind of dread, violence and, ultimately, heart delivered by this year’s award winner. Clearly, such a film was never going be for “the masses” but what exactly is Titane anyways?

One of the best aspects of foreign film trailers is a non-reliance on dialogue. The two minutes experienced for Titane is exciting, colorful and utterly bombastic, featuring  a woman who seems to really love old school muscle cars and an older muscular dude, possibly her papa, who loves old school pop songs. This is the perfect trailer for someone who heard the terrific buzz about a new French film but wanted to go in cold, knowing little to nothing about the film’s plot and characters.

To be fair, although there are surprises, I certainly didn’t see most of what transpires in this coming in this coming-of-age tale about young woman who loves cars, (like REALLY loves cars), it’s nevertheless a hard film to spoil, save for some twists and turns in the second half. So much of what impresses are the remarkable performances by Agathe Russelle and Vincent Lindon, and the sheer audacity of director Ducournau’s specific visual language.

I’m often let down at how familiar images or sequences in cinema are rarely subverted. A father who makes his daughter dinner in kitchen; a young woman making out on a beach with her lover; first responders willingly running into a burning building. We’ve seen these moments plenty of times in movies. Typically, they are functional visual cues on family, romance and heroism.

Ducournau knows this. By design, her film aims to deconstruct that which we feel we know already. Better still, most of her set ups are conversation starters. There might be shocking moments of body horror peppered throughout the film’s nearly two hours but all of it fits with precision. Like the parts of a finely tuned engine. There is a grand plan in Ducournau’s chaos of fire, torn skin, and a black wooden sewing needle.

As a quick synopsis: a young woman named Alexia (Rousselle) ends up on the run from the law for crimes, murders actually, that she definitely committed. Her acts are brutal. Yet Alexia isn’t some funny killer or even an emotionless sociopath that we’ve encountered countless times in random cop shows. For the bulk of the first act, we can’t quite figure her out.

Eventually, she meets Vincent (Lindon) who takes her in. The circumstances are not without complications. What follows is less a story of crime and punishment and more of one about identity and finally growing up. For both for Alexia and Vincent, their time together is quite unlike anything I’ve seen. The less I say the better.

I haven’t even gotten to recounting all the weird possibly, sci-fi elements. It’s fascinating how inevitable most of the outlandish scenes feel. A hunk of metal that sheens just under the skin is an image you can’t unsee. Beneath that chassis is real warmth, a need for genuine human connection.

Titane is one of the best films of the year.

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