It is the rare film that can make one both cringe in horror and cry in sympathy while still being utterly, off-the-wall, bonkers. This year’s Palme d’Or winter, “Titane,” is just such a film. Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, it is a trip.
Cards on the table, this is going to be yet another one of those reviews were I’m exceptionally obtuse about what happens in the movie… or parts of it. Essentially, that’s because the first part of “Titane” is both shocking and amazing. If I were to attempt to tell you what happens, I would not do it justice. You would think me an insane person for believing that anything that comes after such a start could possibly plumb emotional depths. Trust me though, it does. Not only that, but this first portion of movie, as off-kilter as it may be, is thoroughly engaging. If the story remained on the track that it starts, it would be a thing to see, but the fact that it switches to something else entirely and still works is that much more impressive.
“Titane” stars Agathe Rousselle as Alexia, a model who, for reasons that I will not go into, ends up hiding amongst a group of firefighters, pretending that she is the long lost son of the chief, Vincent (Vincent Lindon). On some level Vincent is aware of this lie, but he is so emotionally devastated from the years-long absence of his son that he is wiling to accept Alexia in this role and to do anything he has to stop others from breaking the illusion.
Much of the movie then plays out as this truly emotional drama about two broken people finding each other and trying to build an atypical sort of life together. Rousselle and Lindon are spectacularly good at exploring these feelings and looking at how such a relationship might work in (something approaching) real life.
We, in the audience, get to watch and guess just how much each of them knows, how much they each understand about what is happening not just with the other, but within themselves as well. Further complicating everything and adding to these questions is the fact that Alexia refuses to speak when she is with Vincent and the firefighters. We spend a lot of time just looking into the eyes of each character and wondering. It is amazingly powerful.
It is now incumbent upon me to remind you that this entire section of the movie is so incredibly different than what precedes it (I know I said that above, but still). The events that lead Alexia to make the decision to pretend to be Vincent’s missing son feel like a different movie entirely than what happens once she begins this playacting. There is a logical movement from one section to the next, but Ducournau treats each of them so differently it is almost possible once Alexia is with Vincent to forget that which came before. Yes, the opening has reverberations once later on, but it is still such a different vehicle.
Ducournau’s film defies genre. It defies predictability. It defies logic. It defies common sense and our understanding of the world. It is a movie that speeds off the starting line, offering us one distinct view of the world outside the windows before abruptly shifting gears and showing us an entirely different vista. It is fantasy and dark drama and dance movie and mystery and comedy all wrapped up in questions of identity. It shocks and amazes and hurts.
More than earning its “R” rating, “Titane” is not for everyone, there are definitely moments that will make one squirm, but those who do watch will be rewarded with a movie unlike that which they have seen before.
photo credit: Neon