There’s what you see, and then there’s what you get. Julia Ducournau’s Titane comes out of the gate as a kind of latter-day Crash (the Cronenberg autoerotic fuckfest, not the insipid Oscar-winner of the same name), preoccupied with the places where trauma and sexuality meet and become hopelessly entangled, raw and sticky surfaces fusing as they heal. Childhood car crash survivor Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), her spiral cranial scar like something out of a Junji Ito story, finds herself sexually drawn to cars after having a titanium plate screwed to her fractured skull. In a dreamlike early sequence we see her consummate this fixation, slipping into a flashy car on which she had modeled earlier in the evening and wrapping her arms in its seatbelts as though they were sexual restraints. The car, we’ll find out later, somehow impregnates her, and that’s where it becomes apparent that Titane is as wholly unique and unrelated to anything on which it draws as anything in recent memory.
From there the film reels between bizarre scenarios, dealing in serial killers, cases of mistaken identity, crossdressing, gender roles, and body horror until we come at last to its The Skin I Live In-esque endgame dynamic. On the run after a killing spree, Alexia brutally forces her body into a rough likeness of a boy, Adrien Legrande, gone missing for over a decade. The boy’s father, Vincent, played by the preposterously good-looking Vincent Lindon, takes her in and sets about bonding with his “son”, even as it becomes increasingly clear that something is off. The onscreen chemistry between Rousselle and Lindon is complex and engrossing, their relationship filtered through so many layers of untruth, half-truth, confession, and denial that they begin inadvertently revealing their true selves to one another through the negative space left unoccupied by their deceptions.
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Dance Dance Revolution
Dance occupies a central role in the visual language of Ducournau’s film. Alexia’s work as a dancer and floor show model expresses her sensual connection to cars, to steel and machinery and the memory of her childhood maiming, now inextricably entwined with her adult persona. Her dance with Vincent as he attempts to reestablish his bond with his “son” Adrien, set to The Zombies ‘She’s Not There,’ crackles with friction and intensity as Vincent attempts to force his delusion into reality, to rewrite the world in front of his eyes into the one his heart needs to survive. A later dance scene, set in the middle of a party held by the fire department of which Vincent is captain, explores the growing intimacy between the two, the establishment of a quasi-incestuous father/son dynamic, just as “Adrien’s” final dance defiantly expresses his strange and isolated personality along with his alienated sense of physical gender.
Titane defies easy categorization. It’s a movie about oddballs finding what they need in one another, a movie about killing your lesbian date with the chopstick you use to hold your hair in place and then butchering her seemingly endless roommates with mounting exasperation, a movie about cars and house fires and living with the ghosts of what we’ve lost so long we start to believe they’re alive again, even though we know they’re not. It’s heartfelt and sexy and horrific, transgressive and nasty and mean. It understands that loving someone, even when they aren’t who you want them to be, is the basis of all human connection, and through it one can come to disaster, true understanding, or more often a grotesque chimera of the two. Ducournau’s sophomore effort is made of fire and flesh and twisted metal, and it’s not to be missed.