The 2021 Palme d’Or winner is relentless in its approach and steadfast in its messaging, and could possibly be one of the first times we utter heartfelt, body horror, and Oscar winner in the same sentence.
By Sean Blanford
Images courtesy of TIFF
When you think about the best up-and-coming horror directors of this generation, names like James Wan, Ari Aster, and Jordan Peele quickly spring to mind, but across the Atlantic in France, Julia Ducournau may trump them all. Five years after the release of her feature-length debut Raw, the writer/director is back with her follow-up Titane, marking both an evolution in her storytelling abilities while also staying true to what made her first film so great: an unrelenting, cringe-inducing approach to a relatable story. In its 108-minute runtime, Titane gives you few opportunities to breathe and many to watch the film behind your eyes, leaving you with both the sense of excitement and pure shock when the credits roll.
To say anything about the film’s central plot would be a disservice to your journey of discovery. Titane is a film for the audience to try and put the pieces together as well for the two central characters Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), a young car show dancer with an obsessional appreciation towards motorized vehicles, and Vincent (Vincent Lindon), a body-conscious fire chief whose son went missing a decade ago, to find themselves. With her first film, Ducournau used the guise of cannibalistic activity as the header of a coming-of-age drama about a women’s self-discovery. With Titane, the graphic and disturbing body horror is not just for shock value. It also serves the purpose of the extremes going through our two leads. This is as much of a film about toxic masculinity, gender identity, and sexual gratification as it is about the terror that happens on-screen. It just so happens to be infused with a mix of blood and motor oil.
Why the film works so well is down to Ducournau’s desire to put everything on the screen without spoonfeeding the audience, as well as the performances of acting legend Lindon (who has every opportunity to chew the scenery) and Rousselle, for whom this is their first feature acting credit. Rouselle’s performance is especially spectacular given her lack of film experience, having to do so much psychically while conveying emotion to the audience without much speaking dialogue. As a result, she can sell more with a cold stare or a scream than she could with a monologue. The soundtrack also is a character in itself, with one particular dance number at the firehouse that will stick in your mind long after the film ends.
If you’re going into the film knowing as little as possible, maybe only seeing the trailer or just being excited about the latest Julia Ducournau film, you have done yourself a service. Titane may be a film that struggles to find a mainstream audience, but this will not disappoint fans of the genre and great filmmaking alike. So fasten your seatbelts because you’re in for a ride.
Grade: 4.9/5 (A+)