There are films that haunt you because they’re disturbing and there are films that haunt you because they’re beautiful.
Somehow, Titane manages to be both.
Directed by Julia Ducournau, Titane tells the story of Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), a young, provocative dancer who has been broken by trauma. At a young age, Alexia was involved in a brutal car accident that left her with a titanium plate implanted in her skull. As a result, she has always felt a connection to cars and spends her nights working auto shows as a showgirl. When a bizarre incident with her vehicle leaves her pregnant, Alexia unleashes her rage with murderous vengeance on those around her. Scared for her life and on the run, she disguises herself as a young man who has been missing for a decade and fools his father, firefighter Vincent (Vincent Lindon), into bringing her home. As she settles into her new life, so too must Alexia fight to keep her growing secret from those around her who threaten to expose her and bring her to justice.
To put it simply, Titane is one of the wildest cinematic experiences that you will have in 2021. The winner of this year’s Palme D’Or at Cannes (and taking the Midnight Madness prize at this year’s TIFF), the film is graphic, violent and borders on insanity in moments. Early on within the film, Ducournau reveals that she is willing to let her lead character’s inhibitions fly and she does so with style and brutality. With electricity and colour, Ducournau wants these scenes to linger in the minds of her audience and there’s little question that she succeeds.
What’s interesting though is that, even in the film’s most shocking moments, Ducournau often seems to maintain a sense of play. This becomes particularly evident in one brutal murder scene where the director opts to utilize a pop soundtrack. Despite its vicious violence, Ducournau’s musical choice injects the moment with some levity and twisted humour that surprises the viewer. In this way, Titane shows that it is more than willing to sit in its own darkness by adding a subtle glee to its tone.
Having said this though, this film has an emotional core that draws you in. Somehow, after the blood splatters and sexuality subside, Titane strikes deep with a personal story about love and its relationship to personal suffering. When we first meet Alexia, we see her as a young girl who simply wants to express herself yet finds her inner joy extinguished by her father’s indignation and lack of empathy. As a grown woman, she remains the object of her male fans who view her as the object that they want her to be, even though they are forbidden for touching her. (“Look with your eyes, not your hands,” they’re reminded. In this way, she lives a life of cold distance from human connection. (What’s more, this also likely explains her strange connection to the cars themselves as a representation of both masculine power and impersonal touch.)
But that’s what makes her relationship with Vincent so fascinating.
Grappling with her trauma, Alexia’s murderous sprees are fueled with a hate-filled wrath that keeps anyone from getting close to her. Within her lies a bubbling rage that can turn white hot in the blink of an eye when needed. She simply does not know how to love or be loved. Now, by adopting the identity of Vincent’s long-lost son, Alexia finally finds the perfect vessel to start over without allowing anyone to get close to the real her.
However, despite her apprehension and lack of interest, Vincent refuses to be dissuaded. Having lost his son a decade prior, he will not allow himself to lose ‘him’ again. For the last ten years, there has been a hole in his soul that has left him adrift. Now, with the rediscovery of his ‘son’, Vincent’s fatherly love becomes relentless. With unconditional acceptance, Vincent cares little for where his son has been but simply celebrates the fact that he’s home again. He swears that none of his firemen will hurt him or they will face his wrath. (In fact, Vincent even swears to Alexia that, should he hurt ‘him’, he will kill himself out of grief.)
Despite the warnings of others, Vincent sees what he wants to see. In Alexia, he sees his son and that is who she will be. (“I don’t care who you are. You will always be my son,” he proclaims.) Despite the fact that Alexia shows no real repentance for her actions, Vincent’s deep love for her covers over a multitude of sins. While some will say this is an act of denial (and that is a fair argument), it’s fairly clear that this stems out of a redemptive love that gives her a new identity. Although her past requires justice, she is made new in the love of her new father. (In this way, the film takes on remarkable parallels to the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son who returns to a father who has been awaiting his return anxiously.) Without giving away spoilers, this relationship allows new life to spring forward out of a broken person that bears the scars of others and trauma. A new life that life matters.
In Vincent, there is hope. Even for Alexia.
Yes, Titane is an unsettling film that is designed to disturb its audience. Yes, it is graphic and brutal with its sexuality and violence. However, there is something beautiful within the subtext of this film which becomes even more shocking. Despite its package of bright lights and bare skin, this is a film about breaking free from the damage inflicted by others and being made new. No matter what may have come before, Alexia’s relationship with Vincent demonstrates the incredible power of an unconditional (even Divine) love that sees hope for the broken soul. It’s a love that sees who you can be, as opposed to who you are.
And, in the end, that love proves to be the most haunting aspect of Titane.
Titane premiered at TIFF ’21 and is available in theatres on Friday, October 1st, 2021.