Titane review: Buckle your seatbelts, this body-horror sensation is outrageously good
Titane (2021 movie)
Movies are not generally meant to be a cardiac event, but it's actually hard sometimes to catch your breath in the midst of the flaming auto-erotic mania that is Titane — the winner of the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival and certainly one of most visceral, if not outright divisive experiences on screen this year. You may love it, you may hate it; you may need to seriously reconsider your relationship to your steering wheel. French filmmaker Julia Ducournau soaks her berserk body horror (out this Friday) in so much blood and motor oil, you might even find yourself checking under your fingernails by the end.
From the small glimpses we see of her as a little girl, it's hard to know whether Adrien (Agathe Rousselle) was born bad or made that way by the car accident that leaves a metal plate in her head and a large bubbling scar, swirled like a keloid seashell around her ear; it also seems to have surgically removed all empathy and impulse control. (The tattoo stamped between her breasts that reads Love Is A Dog From Hell neatly sums her life philosophy, at least.) Now grown, she works mostly as a model at automobile trade shows — writhing against shiny fenders in latex and fishnets while slack-jawed fanboys stand by in awe. When one follows her to the parking lot after a gig, confident of an autograph and a kiss, he gets what he came for.
Then he gets what she thinks he deserves, and that quickly becomes a theme: when Adrien's autonomy is threatened or her mood simply turns, people die, and they don't go pretty. She prefers cars to humans anyway, and there's not much to say about her carnal relationship with a Cadillac sedan that isn't better experienced in the room firsthand except to say that yes, it defies both sanity and biology — and that the fruits of that machine union will deeply complicate her need to slip into anonymity when her homicidal urges begin to catch up with her. But it would also be unwise to doubt the extent of the tricks she'll try on for self-preservation, or how far that will take her in the next 90 minutes or so.
There's a kind of kinetic neon nihilism to Titane that can certainly be read on some level as provocation for its own sake; a willful urge to shock and titillate. If the movie were just an empty style exercise it would be easy to clock in for the scandalous bits and move on, but Ducournau — who won a slew of festival prizes for her 2016 feature debut, the cannibalistic coming-of-age fever dream Raw — has too much thrumming beneath the hood to be dismissed that breezily. Though Rousselle's Adrien moves through the world like a feral animal, seemingly without pity or remorse, she's no simple psychopath, and as the story's high-wire conceit spins on — casually decimating ideas of gender and sexuality and its own pretexts of reality along the way — the cumulative affect is startling. In an era when nearly everything that can be done on film already has been, Titane forges something sensational from nerve and pure metal, and makes it new. Grade: B+