[…] Can we seriously believe this Disney-like transformation of a serial killer into a prodigal daughter is the raw but happy ending to a quest for love, a statement in favour of a “more fluid and more inclusive world”?
[…] «Titane» scratch the surface of genre film. Motor oil as sweat or pregnancy as a staircase to monstrosity, the pitiless, devouring sex, echoes of Cronenberg, Carpenter, Anger and Lynch, whose reputations act as dangerous boomerang.
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The story Julia Ducournau tries to articulate in Titane, winner of the main prize in the last Cannes Festival, is a potpourri of gruesome scenes that involve Alexia, a gruff woman with a titanium plate in her skull after a serious car accident when she was nine. This forced cranial surgery drastically altered her conduct, turning with the passage of years from the not so obedient child she used to be into someone easy enraged, a killing machine who reaches earth-shattering orgasms by fucking vehicles; it doesn´t matter if her object of copulation is a bright Cadillac or a fire truck.
Alexia earns a living in cars shows, caressing them with her body, sexually arousing an audience of cave dwelling machos but also some female dancers. When devotees of her appeal try to have an encounter of the fourth kind with her, she punishes their boldness with cannibalistic kisses and a long hair pin through their ears, straight to the brain. She could not help being a silent cyborg that offers kisses and death to humans and fornicates with gearshifts. It is her character.
After a quick assassination of some swingers and letting her own father burn alive, Alexia escapes. To avoid detention, she violently deforms her face to resemble Adrien, a boy gone missing seven years ago when he was ten. When firefighter Vincent, his father, comes to meet him, the audience credibility begins an epic ordeal that will only finish at the conclusion of the film. To accept that Vincent truly thinks Adrien is his son is a great proof of suspension of disbelief. How to be certain of his anguish and not to see him as a man in love with an androgynous sculpture of flesh and bones? At the end when, after many times of being on the verge of discovering (by chance) that Adrien is a woman, he sees her “real” body, he doesn´t mind and accepts the truth as if it were a variation on Joe E. Brown closing line in Some like it hot. Vincent is the ultimate father for all seasons. He can teach his fake son how to do a cardiac massage humming Macarena or act as a male midwife when she spawns a disturbing creature.
After Titane first forty minutes we begin to ask “where´s the Golden Palm?”, and why do some people come out of its screenings shocked and vomiting, an anachronistic naiveté after Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Can we seriously believe this Disney-like transformation of a serial killer into a prodigal daughter is the raw but happy ending to a quest for love, a statement in favour of a “more fluid and more inclusive world”? To make the film work should we let it do everything for us, swallow this silly, derivative hodgepodge and digest it with the help of words as “audacity”, “transgression” and “equality of genres”?
Maybe Titane would look better in the script or the mind, but not on the screen. The second half of the movie is a museum of repetitions of images and situations, a distorted déjà vu (Alexia binding and unbinding her breasts and belly, Vincent jabbing his right buttock, a clever young fireman looking suspiciously to Adrien, the community of firemen legionaries in a trance, Alexia hiding her female body in the last second when daddy burst into her room): stagnant oil drowning fluidity.
Titane scratch the surface of genre film. Motor oil as sweat or pregnancy as a staircase to monstrosity, the pitiless, devouring sex, echoes of Cronenberg, Carpenter, Anger and Lynch, whose reputations act as dangerous boomerang. Meanwhile, the ghost of unwilling humour glides over the story.
In a time where flags of some ideologies are hoisted opportunistically, heterophobic and misogynistic Alexia – a dancing mantis forced to change of genre to avoid going to jail – is a fascist tool to legitimise psychopathic behaviour and amorality. If, with the hope of doing the rightest thing, we analyse how forms construct the story in Titane, we do find that in spite of its hammering sound track and steely editing, it´s actually an incongruous slow movie, built from repetitions and commonplaces, "full of motor oil and rabid wrath, signifying what?" Macarena?
Text: Jorge Yglesias
First published: October 27, 2021
Titane | Film | Julia Ducournau | FR-BE 2021 | 106’ | Zurich Film Festival 2021
Palmes d’or at Festival de Cannes 2021