I am going to have a really difficult time reviewing Titane, because so much of its joy comes in knowing so little. As such, I would like to open by saying that if you have a strong stomach and enjoy a heavy dose of weirdness, you will love Titane as much as I did. It is completely unlike any single film I have ever seen before and it deserves the rabid hype it is conjuring. It is gross and hilarious and heart-warming, refusing to conform to any single genre or emotional response for more than about a minute. My words can only do so well at capturing the magic of this film and therefore I completely understand (and even somewhat encourage) reading no more of the review in order to preserve the magic. But if you would like to stay, I’ll happily attempt to explain what the hell Titane is to you.
Our lead character is Alexia. We first see her as a child, when she is in a car accident (that she is partly responsible for) and has to have titanium placed in her skull, titanium in French being “titane”. After this event, we meet Alexia as an adult, dancing at a car show. While here, she has to deal with an overly eager fan and then while inside cleaning up… No, that’s it, that’s all you’re getting. I refuse to be the one to spoil this film for you. I’ll say that there’s a firefighter, a missing persons case and an overriding theme of family, but that’s your lot. Spending as much time as I do reading about films, I assumed that I’d had quite a lot of this film spoiled for me but in actual fact, everything I knew was from the first fifteen minutes. Partly that’s savvy reading on my part, partly that’s because Titane moves in unpredictable ways. Thinking back over it, I really struggle to place it onto a typical three act structure, or find myself able to explain everything that happens in a way that won’t make me sound like a crazy person. So I won’t. Just trust me when I say you should not read much about Titane and know that you’re going to have a hell of a time working out where the film is taking you next.
The genius of [Rousselle’s] performance is that she never lets the audience completely in, allowing some distance so that you’re not so hooked to Alexia that other characters feel obtuse.
When the narrative of your film is as bonkers as Titane is, you need a really good cast to anchor the film and create a sense of believability to the unbelievable spectacle. Fortunately, in its two leads Titane has just that. As Alexia is acting newcomer Agathe Rousselle. She has a lot of work to do, the majority of it without dialogue, but she is sensational. Again, it’s almost impossible to discuss without spoilers, but there are things Alexia does or lets happen to her that are very difficult to understand, yet Rousselle gives us a window through which to understand them. The genius of her performance is that she never lets the audience completely in, allowing some distance so that you’re not so hooked to Alexia that other characters feel obtuse. Likewise, Vincent Lindon is also brilliant. It’s one of those performances that requires a very intense physical presence in order to hide a very delicate emotional one, those two elements always working in tandem. At first, his character is very difficult to understand, but there’s something in Lindon’s eyes that slowly lets you in. It’s tough to explain but by the end, he’s another character whose very puzzling actions you completely understand.
There’s a second reason that Titane is near impossible for me to review and that’s because it is intensely overwhelming in its craft. Everything is baked to perfection! Perhaps chief to be praised are the visual effects, with Titane often finding itself in the genre of body horror. The things that Titane show us are… Hmm, we’re rubbing up against spoilers here, but a lot of them are unbelievable. They are things that our world as we know it are not capable of, and yet in their presentation we come to believe them. Fair warning, these things are also absolutely grotesque to witness. Even in a press screening, full of people who queued for over an hour because they knew what they wanted and they wanted it badly, there were plenty of screams and groans at a handful of scenes. However, Titane is also really good at eliciting those responses by showing you less than you think you saw.
It’s one of those things that is very hard to explain, but there are lots of scenes in cinema history that create such an overwhelming mood that your brain becomes convinced that it has seen more than it actually did. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Seven are both prime examples of this, in using mood to create much more terror than is actually on screen and I think the prime thing films use for that is sound. There’s one scene in particular in Titane that occurs on a toilet, in which all we are given is the setup, a grimacing face and sound effects. I think this scene might be the hardest to watch in the entire film, as we are guided through the procedure by nothing but squelching nastiness through the speakers. It is simply cinema wizardry of the highest order. Aside from the sound effects, the score of the film is also brilliant, another fantastic job with Jim Williams adding to his already strong portfolio that includes Raw, Possessor and Beast (as well as films that are more than one word long). His compositions are mixed with some pre-existing music to create a symphony of scenes that are unforgettable and that will play in my mind for years to come, for reasons both delightful and disgusting.
I was unprepared for Ducournau to yet again storm out of the gate with another singular masterpiece.
When I first saw Raw a few years ago, it truly did blow me away. Though intangibly shy of perfection, it lingered in my brain and I knew (as all others who loved the film did too) that writer and director Julia Ducournau would be a filmmaker to watch out. Even on guard as I was, I was unprepared for Ducournau to yet again storm out of the gate with another singular masterpiece. There is no one film that is like Titane, which is why everyone is falling over themselves to recommend it so heartily. It can’t be emphasised enough that out of all the films I saw at London Film Festival this year, Titane is the one with the smallest audience due to its extreme content (cinema employees, prepare for walkouts), but it’s also the one that has most completely captured me. It is a searing blast of cinema into the brain and heart, designed to make you stand on your feet and scream “Huzzah! Cinema!”. And scream I do.