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In a recent interview piece for Vulture, director Julia Ducournau discussed her new film Titane. She specifically described a gruesome scene where a character has to disfigure themselves to avoid being recognized by the police and said “you actually don’t see anything. You think you see something, but you don’t. When you anticipate something, somehow it makes it worse in your head.” That may be true in the very specific context of that moment in that scene, but it very much misrepresents the film as a whole. Titane is, maybe, the most explicit film I’ve ever seen in a theater.
It would be impossible to discuss Titane without starting here and it is really important to lead with the fact that a half-dozen (mostly) blameless people are brutally murdered, on screen, in the first fifteen minutes of Titane. Our main character mostly wordlessly and emotionlessly murders everyone they meet, which really challenges you to find a foothold. It’s not impossible to make a film with a sociopath as the central character, but it does really ask a great deal of the audience. We get a brief introduction where we learn that Alexia was in a car accident as a girl and it resulted in a titanium plate in her head and a fascination for cars, but that is 100% of the backstory. After that, it’s almost immediate deliberately disgusting shock violence.
I’m not a prude and I do respect Ducournau for making a very specific, insistent piece of art. This is violence for violence’s sake, but it’s not necessarily praising it. Without motive or introduction, however, you are more or less just thrown into a murderer’s day-to-day. Alexia barely speaks in the film and we get only slight glimpses into her feelings. Ducournau said in that same Vulture interview that the cars in Titane are “obviously symbolic” and by using the word obviously she makes clear that she will not explain it. There are definitely ways to take this and there are lenses of isolation, feminism, and more, but I really do not think it’s obvious. I’m willing to be on the outside here, but the audience scores on review sites suggest that about half the people that saw this did not like it. The shock of the violence is probably to blame there, but the theater I was in definitely laughed at scenes that are not supposed to be funny.
I really did not enjoy this, but I don’t think I was supposed to enjoy it. I know I’m harping on it, but it’s important that you understand if you plan to see this that the violence is extreme, no matter what your baseline for that is. It’s also not giving the game away to say Alexia has sex with and becomes pregnant by a car, also within the first few minutes. The car “knocks” on her door to summon her and then she sleeps with it. I can’t go there with Titane, and you have to if you’re going to do this one.
The bright spots are the performances, with newcomer Agathe Rousselle playing Alexia as a nearly mute, stranger in her own skin and Vincent Lindon as the fire chief who takes her in under odd circumstances. Lindon especially makes the film and I do think if you’re interested enough in the bizarre to see this you will be rewarded with what he brings to it. He has such a strange role here, both paternal and slightly off, and what does work only works because he nails a very specific performance.
It feels a little unfair to say that the body horror, hyperviolent movie about a murderer who has sex with cars is too weird. It is exactly what it says it will be, so it feels a little bit like taking issue with all the wars in the stars in a Star Wars movie. That said, it left me hollow the entire way through and I liked it even less after the ending and in retrospect. I think if you’re the sort of person who would see this based on the description, you may enjoy it, but if you’re on the fence let me push you to one side. I really struggle to find what this is all in service of beyond the shock of it, and while it is among the most shocking things I’ve ever seen, that alone is not enough.
Is it better than the last movie we looked at? It’s certainly more memorable than 2046. As a viewer, I tend to give extra credit to messy but fascinating films rather than safe successes, but I can’t do that here. I really did not enjoy Titane as an experience even though I do begrudgingly tip my cap to the sheer gall of it.
Is it the best movie of all time? No. There are a lot of ways to discuss Persona through the lens of Titane, but it would spoil some of what I want to leave unspoiled. See if, you must, but I will always remember my fiancé turning to me during a particularly extreme scene and asking, fairly, “why did you want to see this?”
You can watch Titane in select theaters, as it’s not currently streaming (yet). You can recommend a movie to me for this series through email at readingatrecess @ gmail.com or on Twitter @alexbad and I will watch it, no matter what. Try to pick something good.