Titane is one of the ickiest, most shocking body-horror movies I've ever seen. And since being icky and shocking is what these movies are fundamentally all about, I can only consider it a rousing success. Director Julia Ducournau's follow-up to Raw is hypnotic in its unpredictability, continually adding layers that catch you off guard, right up to its sublime final shot. Be warned: the film earns its R rating. If you're an adventurous viewer, buckle up for a wild ride that will leave you exhilarated.
An opening prologue shows a little girl having a titanium plate installed in her head after a car accident. The surgery has the unexpected effect of leaving her profoundly attracted to metal. We then move years ahead to find the adult Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) working as an exotic dancer at a car show. She begins a flirtation with fellow performer Justine (Garance Marillier), whose pierced nipples are like catnip to her, yet finds true arousal from one of the autos on display. It starts to bounce around while she braces herself with the seat belts in back. The episode is so intense that Alexia not only achieves orgasm, she also becomes pregnant.
Yes, Titane is about a woman who gets impregnated by a car. There's more to it than that, of course, but I wouldn't want to divulge any of the crazy twists that lie ahead. What can safely be said without spoilers is that Alexia is on the run from the law, which leads her to change her appearance and move in with a fireman named Vincent (Vincent Lindon) who is still reeling from a tragedy a decade ago.
On a pure body-horror level, Titane is unforgettable. If you think getting pregnant by a car is out-there, just wait until you see how Alexia goes through the usual complications of pregnancy. You'll never look at motor oil the same way again. Another recent French film, Jumbo, had a woman falling in love with an amusement park ride. That picture, bizarre as it was, intentionally held firm to romantic story conventions. Ducournau is far less interested in conventionality than in suggesting the unforeseen repercussions of a fetish. Multiple scenes here will make you squirm in discomfort.
If that's all there was to Titane, it wouldn't be much more than a freak show, albeit a stylishly photographed one. Several big themes are at play here, including how Alexia impacts the grieving Vincent's life and how he impacts hers. The film’s title refers to the super-strong titanium that's inside Alexia's body, yet also encompasses her personality. She goes through a lot over the course of the story – including the anxiety of birthing whatever the hell is growing inside her -- always pushing forward and never giving up. In some regards, Titane is a tribute to feminine fortitude, or at least to the notion that life can be hard so you'd better toughen up.
Agathe Rousselle gives a lead performance that can best be described as fearless. Frequently naked and rarely speaking, she makes Alexia feel like a wild animal who's cornered and ready to pounce in self-defense. Even though the character does some vile things, we can't avoid sympathizing with her, thanks to the actress's no-holds-barred bravery. Vincent Lindon has a very different kind of function within the plot. He's good, too, making the fit between the unlikely duo of Vincent and Alexia seem logical.
Titane is a bold, risk-taking work that asks the audience to let go of preconceived notions regarding how a story should be told. You won't get any explanations for why Alexia is attracted to metal or how, exactly, this pregnancy is possible. That's okay, because what answer would be satisfactory anyway? The joy here is watching a filmmaker swing for the fences with a wild concept that's filled with ideas to ponder at the same time that you're recoiling from the uncomfortable images onscreen.
No doubt about it – Titane is alive in a way few films are.
out of four
Titane is rated R for strong violence and disturbing material, graphic nudity, sexual content, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.