by Sarah Cook
Julia Ducournau’s cannibalistic debut feature Raw was a triumph. The story of a young woman who, after tasting meat for the very first time, suddenly has a major craving for human flesh was something so devilishly good. It was truly something masterful that we could sink our teeth into and it made us excited for what the French director could cook up next.
Well, Ducournau revs up the body horror with slick and sickening sophomore feature Titane.
As a child, Alexia is involved in a car accident which leaves her with a metal plate in her head. Years later, she is a model, specifically working with cars and thrives around on top of them. She’s also a serial killer, having dispatched many people across France. After a sexual encounter with a vehicle leaves her pregnant, and a killing spree leaves her wanted, Alexia poses as a missing boy – Adrien – and returns to his father decades after he had gone missing.
Ducournau does not take her foot off the pedal for one moment here, driving the audiences headfirst into a collision of horrifying visuals. It is very much an examination of how far someone would go to escape and how blind parents are of their children’s inexcusable behaviours; both from Alexia’s distant parents and Adrien’s grieving father Vincent. There is foolish human behaviour that Alexia merrily exploits for her own gain and this sinister look at letting the wrong one into your sanctuary is both gleeful and, at times, emotional.
Director and writer Ducournau infuses the story with the toe-curling body horror of being pregnant. For anyone who wishes to get pregnant, perhaps advert your eyes to the gruesome, yet spectacular images pouring out onto the screen. As Alexia claws at her skin, pushing her fingernails through flesh and spilling oil, each muscle will contract, and every hair will rise as you squirm at the visceral visuals.
The cinematography by Ruben Impens is striking and vibrant. There’s a bold use of colour that heightens this slick vehicular world that surrounds Alexia. Slow dance sequences and long one-takes heighten the feel of Titane into something truly fantastical – a rabbit hole of depravity and desperation.
Acress Agathe Rousselle is fantastic in the lead role. Playing a coolly calm predator, with a sexual passion for cars, turned despairing prey disguised as a missing boy requires a lot of skill that Rouselle is able to deliver. Struggling in agony at her quickly transforming body (hybrid car babies, it seems, have a quick gestation period,) Alexia’s icy exterior seemingly comes undone. Whilst the deluded fire-chief Vincent (played terrifically by French icon Vincent Lindon) spends most his time injecting steroids into his body and stinks of toxic masculinity and madness, he does offer warmth to Alexia that she finds hard to refuse. The film becomes truly interesting when Alexia battles against his tightening stranglehold.
So, yes, the story is intriguing. Actually, it is best to call them stories, because this film is easily split into two. Whilst they both belong to Alexia, they offer wholly diverse experiences; giving unique emotional output. What would’ve effectively worked as two plot points, struggle to meld together, and that dilutes the thick, juicy tales on the screen.
With Titane, there are many filmmakers you wish to compare Ducournau too, such as David Cronenberg, Gasper Noe, and Lars Von Trier. Even Thomas Roussel’s Jumbo, a story of a fairground worker falling in love with a ride, feels comparable here. Especially when it comes to depicting slippery oil cascading over and in nude female bodies.
Yet the bold approach to Titane, both in these gruesome horror sequences and the vibrant colour palettes, and the investing emotional levity of the characters, make Ducournau an exceptional and thrilling filmmaker.
Titane will leaving you gearing for more Ducournau.
Titane is playing at the BFI London Film Festival
Buy your tickets now!