Extreme body horror gets tenderized and marinated in day-glow pinks and purples in Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winning follow-up to her breakthrough film, cannibal coming-of-age Raw. Agathe Rousselle stars as Alexia, who as a child is involved in a car crash and has a titanium plate fitted in her head. She wears her battle scar proudly, giving thanks to the car in which she was injured by giving it a giant kiss as she exits the hospital.
As an adult, her job as a dancer at car shows entails writhing sexily atop bonnets while zombie-like hordes of male punters get noticeably turned on. One thirsty fanboy deep in his fetishisation of machines and women even follows Alexia to a darkened car park, aggressively requesting an autograph and more. What turns him on, turns Alexia off so she grabs her weapon of choice, a long metal hair pin, and stabs him in the ear.
Titane follows serial-killer Alexia (who has a touch of Villanelle dark humour to her murder sprees) through a radical body transformation. When the police catch on to her, she goes on the run, masking her identity by pretending to be the missing son of a fire chief (Vincent Lindon turning in a incredibly moving performance).
It’s at this point that the film changes gear from full-throttle, frothing at the mouth extravaganza to tender depiction of tragically wounded souls desperately searching for a connection. It takes its lead from J.G. Ballard’s Crash, which David Cronenberg famously adapted, with Alexia getting aroused by cars and even impregnated by one.
Cold-blooded killings, kindness, oily discharge and stretch marks that graphically tear through flesh mark each step in Alexia’s fluid transfiguration. As she interlopes into a hyper-masculine world, the lines between attraction and repulsion become blurred, as do her relationships. Ducournau smartly and stylishly dismantles social constructs with intoxicating dance sequences that double up as intense body on body spars.
The dynamic between Alexia and a grieving father figure who has an unhealthy fixation on his muscular form is electric. As the film reaches its spectacular conclusion, with their thorny relationship of acceptance at the centre, it twists body horror into a modern ride or die love story that fully delivers on its meaty concept.
Titane was reviewed at the BFI London Film Festival 2021.