The most shocking, disturbing, and yet surprisingly affirming film you’ll see this year, Julia Ducournau’s Titane is unlike anything else. After her outlandishly grotesque debut Raw, Ducournau doubles down with a body horror straight out of the Cronenberg playbook, while also exploring delivering a twisted father/son/daughter(?) relationship and a passion for cars so deep it makes Fast & Furious look like Tonka Trucks. And in the middle of this wild, psycho-sexual love story there’s a totally go-for-broke performance by Agathe Rousselle that must have taken a physical and emotional toll.
The title Titane comes from the titanium plate inserted into the skull of Alexia, who as a child was in a terrible car accident with her father. Years later, Alexia works as a sexy showgirl, dancing seductively atop colorful muscle cars like she was an extra in a Vin Diesel movie. The camera doesn’t focus so much on the leering men, or even on the vehicle itself. It moves like a lustful snake around Alexia and the carnal pleasure she gets from the skin-on-metal contact, fully-realized moments later in a sex scene that will be an auto enthusiast’s wet dream. Suffice it to say, Alexia is not much of a people person; violence is a part of her life and the only way out of it is to flee.
There’s a lot of weird shit that goes on in Titane, but it has human elements to it that are universal even if they are covered in scars and bathed in motor oil. While Ducournau explored desires of the flesh with Raw, here she’s going for something deeper. Alexia is looking for emotional connection from whereever, whoever, and whatever she can find it. That leads her to Vincent (Vincent Lindon), an aging fire captain and distraught father who comes to believe Alexis, now calling herself Adrien after a heinous act of self harm, is his long-lost son. Together, they form a mangled family unit represented physically by Adrien’s battered, covered-up flesh, and Vincent’s bruised buttocks where he injects himself daily to maintain his impressive physique. Internally they are no less battered, and willing to exchange truth for the comfort of having someone special in their lives. It’s totally fucked up stuff, the kind that great B movies are made of, but Ducournau and her cast sell it straight to powerful effect.
That said, Ducournau doesn’t keep Titane deadly serious, either. How could it be given how far-out it goes? There’s quite a lot of humor here, as well, including the use of The Macarena as a life-saving technique, and a series of increasingly homoerotic dance parties involving half-naked firemen, shot with a hilarious neon glow. If they broke out into a game of volleyball nobody could be surprised. Even when blood is shed there’s often some absurd reason behind it, like a socially-awkward, overly aggressive fan who goes a little too far to get Alexis’ autograph.
If the film does meander a little bit, it’s not the blame of the actors who are tremendous throughout, with both showing an openness and vulnerability that clashes with scenes of outward ruggedness. Titane will make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, and it’ll probably also disgust the shit out of you. One thing you won’t do is forget the experience.
Titane opens in theaters on October 1st.