Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, Titane (Titanium) is the story of a young woman who becomes pregnant after having sex with a car as she pretends to be the missing son of a firefighter following a series of murders she committed. The film is a body horror film that explores a young woman meeting a lonely old man while dealing with the mess she’s created through killing people. Starring Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, and Lais Salameh. Titane is a rapturous yet extremely fucked-up film from Julia Ducournau.
The film follows a showgirl for car shows whose sexual encounter with one of those cars leads to a pregnancy as she goes on the run following a series of murders she committed where she pretends to be a missing young man for a lonely firefighter. It’s a film that explores a young woman with an appetite for destruction and love for cars as it puts her into places where she went too far while also trying to find love which she didn’t receive from her parents as a child and as an adult. Julia Ducournau’s screenplay has a straightforward narrative yet it opens with a young Alexia (Adele Guigue) annoying her father in a car only for a car crash would lead to giving her a titanium plated filled on the right side of her head as she becomes fascinated with cars where she would become a showgirl for car shows as an adult (Agathe Rousselle). In these shows, she would dance provocatively in scantily-clad clothes where she is beloved by many but some go too far for her affection as it leads to death.
One notable murder at a party leads to trouble as she also learns she is pregnant after having sex with the car she was performing on at the show. With her family either unable or uninterested in helping her, she ends up going alone as there’s already a manhunt for her arrest for the murders. Upon seeing a poster for a missing person and how that man would age, Alexia would pretend to be that man including breaking her own nose where she would be picked up by this aging firefighter in Vincent (Vincent Lindon) as he is a captain who is still trying to keep up with the young firefighters he’s leading through steroids. Though Alexia as Adrien is more concerned with needing a place to crash, she starts to care for Vincent as she plays mute in order to keep him company while dealing with her growing belly.
Ducournau’s direction is definitely intense in terms of the approach to body horror as well as how she presents the film that is provocative but also uncompromising. While the opening scene of the young Alexia and how she got that titanium plate on her head including her scar behind her right ear just adds to offbeat presentation of the film. Shot on various locations in and around the South of France, Ducournau also plays into the world that Alexia is in as the scene of her arriving into the car show is shot in one entire tracking shot from the way she is walking to her dancing provocatively on a car where Ducournau just keeps the camera gazing through all sorts of shooting coverage whether it’s in a wide shot or in a close-up. The film also has Ducournau take on different styles of shots in wide and medium with the latter being in this scene of Alexia having sex with the car and then cuts to a wide shot of the car outside as it’s being part of this strange yet intense sex scene. Ducournau also doesn’t stray from the intensity of the film’s violence in which Alexia often kills her victims with a titanium hairpin she always wears where it’s often trigged by someone going too far as she either becomes defensive or react badly to something.
The film is also prominent with its sexual content as Alexia is often nude as it relates to her body changing due to her pregnancy with elements of titanium in her body as she desperately tries to conceal her true identity to Vincent. Even as she would shave her head to look more like a man yet there are those who know or around Vincent that are suspicious. Ducournau knows when to keep things simple while fire is often a recurring image in not just a key scene late in the first act but also in what Vincent faces quite often where he is a man that is also troubled by his own body which is why he uses steroids to maintain a physique that is becoming impossible to maintain. The third act isn’t just about these revelations of both Alexia and Vincent’s own physical issues but also this need of two people who are lonely and in need of each other with the former not really knowing what love is and the latter is someone who hasn’t been the same since his son’s disappearance as well as unable to accept the truth of what happened to him. Overall, Ducournau crafts a provocative yet intoxicatingly unsettling film about a serial killer who poses a man to be a companion for a lonely fireman as a way to avoid capture from the authorities.
Cinematographer Ruben Impens does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of stylish and colorful lights for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night are gorgeous to watch along with the usage of fire as well as aiming for something natural in the daytime scenes. Editor Jean-Christophe Bouzy does amazing work with the editing as it does have some jump-cuts in some scenes including a montage of Alexia transforming herself into a man in disguise. Production designers Laurie Colson and Lise Pesault, with set decorators Axelle Le Dauphin, Emmanuelle Olle, and Bruno Taddei, do brilliant work with the look of the car show as well as some of the places that Alexia goes including the fire station that Vincent lives in along with Adrien’s room.
Special effects makeup artists Olivier Alfonso, Amelie Grossier, and Celine Llerena do tremendous work with the film’s make-up effects from the look of Alexia’s scar as well as aspects of her body as it play into the idea of body horror as it is a highlight of the film. Visual effects supervisor Thibault Martegani does excellent work with the film’s minimal visual effects that include a few of the film’s violent moments as well as scenes involving the changes in Alexia’s body. The sound work of Severin Favriau, Fabrice Osinski, and Stephane Thiebaut is superb for its sound in the way the music at the car show is presented as well as other sound effects that range from these small sparse moments as well as some of the intense moments involving Alexia’s body. The film’s music by Jim Williams is phenomenal with its mixture of industrial, electronic music, ambient, orchestral, and vocal choir music as it adds to the drama and horror elements of the film while music supervisor Guillaume Baurez provide a soundtrack that features pieces by the Zombies, the Kills, Future Island, 16 Horsepower, Caterina Caselli, Johann Sebastian Bach, Lisa Abbott, and several others to play into the world that the characters are in.
The casting by Dorothee Auboiron, Christel Baras, Constance Demontoy, and Audrey Gatimel is remarkable as it feature some notable small roles from Thibault Cathalifaud as a fan who gets way too close to Alexia, Bertrand Bonello and Celine Carrere as Alexia’s distant parents, Dominique Frot as an old woman that Alexia as Adrien would save through CPR, Adele Guigue as the young Alexia, and Myriem Akheddiou as Vincent’s estranged ex-wife who meets Adrien with some suspicions of her own. Lais Salameh is fantastic as Vincent’s fellow young fireman Rayane who is suspicious about Adrien while chooses to keep things to himself knowing about Vincent’s fragile state. Garance Marillier is excellent as a showgirl named Justine that Alexia briefly has a relationship with as it later becomes problematic.
Vincent Lindon is incredible as Vincent as a middle-aged firefighter who is struggling to maintain a strong physique as he believes he has his son back as it plays into his own loneliness but also a tenderness into how patient he is with Adrien while dealing with the dangers of his own job as he clings to Adrien. Finally, there’s Agathe Rousselle in a phenomenal performance as Alexia as a showgirl who is also a serial killer as a woman that feels more connected through cars and violence as she copes with the lack of love until she meets Vincent where Rousselle maintains this stoic physicality around him where it is this eerie and intense performance from Rousselle.
Titane is an outstanding film from Julia Ducournau that features great performances from Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, an eerie music soundtrack, and its uncompromising presentation towards physical ideas as well as love and loneliness. The film is definitely not for the faint of heart as it is a film that intends to shock as well as so much more yet it is also a film that isn’t afraid to be disgusting and repulsive in its idea of body imagery and desires. In the end, Titane is a magnificent film from Julia Ducournau.
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