Titane is a film where a woman has sex with a car in the first act. This is pretty much the elevator pitch. It’s wild and unorthodox enough to pique some interest on that first act alone. What other film starts with such an act and then progresses into said woman becoming pregnant with a metallic child? All of that stuff is bizarre but there’s thankfully more of a heart beating beneath such a bombastic and steel exterior.
Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) is established as a woman who lives a weird life. After being injured in a car crash as a kid, she had a metal plate placed in her head. Ever since that operation, she’s had an infatuation with cars. That infatuation turns to sexualization when she grows older, taking a job as being a model who dances up and down automobiles. Cars seem to be the only thing she can connect with on any level. Her conversations with fellow dancers are awkward. Her sexual encounters with fans are uncomfortable and lead to murder. She’s still cold and distant from the family she resides with. Her behavior is hard to explain and her struggle to understand herself takes a darker turn when her murders start mounting higher. It isn’t too long before she’s on the run.
In addition to being targeted by the police, Alexia also has to worry about her pregnancy. She’s unsure who the father is until it becomes clear who based on her nipples producing motor oil. A sexual fling with a car has forced her into motherhood. Trying to conceal both her baby bump and her identity, she decides to put on the look of a man to pose as a lost child. It’s a tougher cover to maintain, especially as her pregnancy progresses, but it’s an identity she has no choice but to assume to avoid a life of imprisonment.
Posing as a boy who was lost, Alexia comes into the care of grieving parent Vincent (Vincent London). Vincent is a firefighter who has found himself slipping into a depressive lifestyle of loneliness and drugs as he struggles to find any kind of warmth in his life. He’s hoping Alexia will be fill in the hole in his life that has been tough to fill. In a lesser film, the onus would be on Alexia to maintain this deception as she learns to love Vincent. Instead, it’s more of a case of Vincent learning to love Alexia. The mask of Alexia keeps slipping but the love of Vincent never dwindles. In fact, it only grows as the film goes on. Vincent starts as a frustrated man who wishes his son would talk to him. He later ends up as someone willing to love Alexia, no matter who she happens to be or what is her current situation.
Julia Ducournau’s previous film Raw made great use of mixing body horror with a compassionate theme about trying to find identity and comfort. Titane echoes similar sentiments on both fronts. The visuals of Alexia engaging in strange sex and a metallic birth are all moments that are as deeply surreal as they are visually tough. Her violent rampage to both others and herself is also rather brutal, involving ears being punctured and noses being broken. Her pregnancy is gross but also contains a lot of agony for trying to deny yourself. Vincent’s plight is one that is easy to sympathize with to the point that he can see past all of Alexia’s scars and shyness for a soul in need of comfort, peeling back her rough exterior that is nearly literal.
And, yes, in case you were wondering, Titane is weird. Very, very weird. You can’t watch a film where a woman bleeds motor oil from her nipples and not admit as much. For this reason, this is certainly not going to be everyone’s jam. I’m not just talking about the prudes who don’t like sex or violence. I’m talking about the concerning and somewhat indirect commentary the picture makes on depictions of gender and comfort with your body. Reading a bit more into the picture can easily produce some problematic readings of reworking your body to fit a different image. Body horror can sometimes run into this issue especially when films of this nature center around gender but Titane goes a bit further by actually questioning certain norms. I’m rather split on the film for this angle and it’s sure to be placed under multiple lenses that are worth considering. Talk to me again in five years and my opinion of the film may have changed greatly the more I harp on its quiet desparation.
As it stands, however, I really dug Titane. It is by no means as insightful or profound as Julia’s Raw but it does have her own distinct concoction of uncomfortable body horror and comforting displays of humanity. It’s tough to read at times in its mixture of absurd vulgarities and sublime somberness but all the more intriguing for it. It’s that type of provocative filmmaking that makes me all the more excited to see what Ducournau will stir up next.