Julia Ducournau’s Raw is one of my favourite horror films. It is shocking, visceral, and ever so bold. I didn’t think any other film could ever trump it, so it gives me great pleasure to say that Ducournau’s sophomore film Titane excels a little bit more. It defiantly tackles so many themes and ideas, and as I sit here having watched it half an hour ago, I don’t know if I can say definitively what it’s about. But that’s the beauty of Titane – it’s able to say so much without attempting to beat us over the head with it.
While Titane moves in a mostly linear fashion, it flows based on moments, and sometimes we jump to a new scene without any sense of what happened in the in-between. This allows the film to be read yet remain inscrutable, structured with folds of ambiguity.
Titane is centred on Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), an erotic dancer whose performances involve her writhing and dancing on top of automobiles. Dozens of men flock to gape at her, and much like how cars are masculine properties, Alexia’s body also doesn’t seem to belong to her. These men desire her body and attention, and make proclamations of love that reek of possession and control. When a male advance goes to far, this is where we discover Alexia’s secret: she’s a serial killer, attacking anyone that gets too close.
She is even distant from her own family members; her father is fearful and wary of her, while her mom remains oblivious to her murderous tendencies. When she was seven years old, she got into a car accident, and had to undergo surgery as a result. A metal plate was embedded into her head, which seems to explain her fascination with metallic objects as well as flesh out her othered state.
Due to certain circumstances, Alexia is forced to transform herself into a man and go into hiding, which she does in the house of Vincent Legrand (Vincent Lindon), a captain at a fire station. He believes Alexia is his missing son Adrien, and welcomes her into his home. While her own father loathed touching her, Vincent is very much the opposite. He is always reaching out for Alexia, who has to reject him as his embrace of her would mean him discovering who she is. Alexia’s masking of her female form involve some of the most uncomfortable images of body horror I have ever seen in film. I hovered between fascination and discomfort, and this is truly due to Ducournau’s wonderful direction and Rousselle’s committed performance.
As Alexia disappears into the identity of Adrien, her entry into the masculine world means that men treat her differently now. Because they no longer see her body as female, she is no longer subject to their gaze, with Ducournau highlighting the struggles women face just going about their day to day living, where even a simple bus ride becomes treacherous because of undesired male attention. Alexia receives a modicum of respect from the men under Vincent’s supervision because of Vincent’s alpha and masculine status within the station. Before that, the men find Adrien weird because he doesn’t fit into the perceived notions of masculine identity, and become quite uncomfortable when they see glimpses of that female side.
Vincent faces similar struggles with himself – he is so used to projecting this strong, masculine image, that sometimes he becomes self-conscious about his tender feelings and sensitivity. He injects himself with steroids so as to maintain his muscular frame, which is getting harder to do with age. Ducournac’s film charts the difficulties faced by both men and women with regard to gender identity. We empathize with both Alexia and Vincent, and Ducournac’s work is proof that you don’t need to villainise men to craft a compelling feminist text.
The pair, each broken in their own way, find acceptance with each other, and it is to the film’s credit that it has the dexterity to be both a love story as well as a horror flick.
Titane, simply put, is a masterstroke of filmmaking.
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Fiercely transgressive, absolutely shocking, and utterly memorable, Titane isn't a film you want to miss.
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