Julia Ducournau made me a fan with her debut feature film, Raw which deftly balanced an emotionally complex coming of age story with a cannibal horror film. It is no secret that Ducournau finds tenderness in the most extreme of subjects. In some ways her approach to extreme topics can be traced back to the early 2000’s French New Extremity movement, but what Ducournau has accomplished with her newest feature, Titane, is nothing short of a metamorphosis of that transgressive approach to filmmaking. The film has two poles of emotion that the audience is pulled between and what makes it so incredible is that one could not work without the other.
Alexia is a dancer working as a car show girl, who has accumulated a small following of raving male fans for her salacious routines. The audience can tell immediately from this ferocious, almost violent dance routine, that Alexia has an idiosyncratic intensity about her. What isn’t so clear until later in the runtime, is that Alexia has a compulsion to kill, and finds a sick twisted pleasure in inflicting pain onto others and even herself. However, the true hook of Titane only reveals itself after Alexia becomes desperate to escape police capture for her crimes and attempts to disguise herself in a horrible lie.
I will admit up front, I have a personal bias towards abrasive films and particularly the style of filmmaking Ducournau is drawing on in many instances of Titane. Filmmakers like Claire Denis, Gaspar Noe, and Pascal Laugier utilize extreme forms of sexuality and violence to transform their typical associations with shock value into complex thematic richness through endowing their extreme content with a confrontational approach rather than a voyeuristic one. Titane continues this tradition but takes it a step further to mutate this with a tenderness and warmth typically reserved for intimate dramas, not quasi-horror films.
Alexia’s character arc begins at violent murder and ends in holistic transformation. Along the way the film explores the beauty of found family, the malleability of sexuality and gender, transhumanism, and the necessity to trust people enough to care for us. This last idea is what I couldn’t shake most after the credits rolled on Titane’s roller coaster of a runtime. The film’s final moments represent this idea wonderfully and it is as touching a moment as it is brutal. This juxtaposition serves as an encapsulation of Ducournau’s control over her craft.
It would take a thesis worth of research and interpretation to fully dissect the film’s meaning, but like all great art, each person will leave with their own personal truth. To adapt a quote from another European provocateur Micheal Haneke, “if 300 people are in a cinema watching it, they will all see a different film, so in a way there are thousands of different versions of [Titane].” As it stands Julia Ducournau has made the film of the year and a must see for anyone interested in film. Titane is currently showing in theaters only. – 5/5 stars