Finally arriving in the UK at the end of a critically triumphant year, French writer-director Julia Ducournau’s Titane is very much deserving of its formidable reputation. Spike Lee’s jury awarded this body-horror masterpiece the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival back in July, while critics and cinephiles who caught the film at festivals in Toronto and London this year subsequently placed Titane at or near the summit of their end-of-year polls.
After a childhood car crash leaves Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) with a titanium plate in her head, she develops an intense passion for cars that comes to a head one night after she finishes a shift as a dancer at a motor show. Having murdered a creepy stalker with a hairpin after he forced her to kiss him in the car park, Alexia showers herself off – only to be distracted by a car evidently trying to get her attention out in the showroom. The car has seemingly turned itself on and Alexia, rather than run screaming into the night, gets into the car and has sex with it.
We gradually learn that the stalker was not Alexia’s first victim, then watch with horrified fascination as she parties with her colleagues, has sex with them and then kills them, too. When Alexia discovers that she has become pregnant, things take an even more deliciously odd turn. As for what she does to evade capture for her crimes, it’s uncompromising and completely believable within the film’s internal logic – and best saved from spoiling here. We will say, however, that Alexia soon strikes up a warped relationship with a steroid-using chief fireman called Vincent (veteran French actor Vincent Lindon), sending Titane off into yet more unexpected directions.
Sexual desire is tackled relatively rarely on screen with any sort of honesty or seriousness, and is often played primarily for laughs. It’s refreshing, then, to see such an adult, unconventional film about bizarre sexual proclivities. That Titane’s most recent cinematic point of comparison is David Cronenberg’s Crash, a brilliant film made back in 1996, tells its own story.
As with Raw, Ducournau’s mighty coming-of-age cannibalism tale from 2016, there’s all sorts of interesting things being said here about female sexuality and agency, as well as masculinity – particularly in the portrayal of Vincent and the posturing (or otherwise) of his fellow firemen.
Ducournau’s wild second film is an exciting and surprising riot of shocks, gruesome violence and striking images that you can never second-guess. Titane is unforgettable, and confirms Ducournau as a major star of world cinema.
- Director: Julia Ducournau
- Starring: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier
- Release date: December 26 (UK and Ireland)