Disturbed Ruthlessness: TITANE
It's an extraordinary feat, one I prematurely criticized as garbage but have come to settle in the cloud of realization, that body horror in filmmaking has an edge most mainstream audiences like to ignore for being so blatantly gruesome. I feel like I fell into that category for some years, but after endless research, I came to the rough conclusion I've always been a body horror fan and failed to realize it. Being a firm enthusiast and mainstream fan of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN as one if not my only favorite gothic horror story is entirely drenched in body horror. Duh! Marissa. You even made a short film dedicating your love and fascination for it. Sometimes we don't always see what's right in front of is and I'm guilty of this. So I ask these people of the world, what world are you really living in? A world where one is hyper woke yet ignorant and self absorbed to the day to day atrocities occurring near and far, behind closed doors, and in broad daylight? Yeah I watch a ton of horror movies, and listen to tons of true crime podcasts, but I'm not in denial of the world getting battered around in evil turmoil run by dipshit predators who carry unspoken traumas, neglecting to repair the damage they bare on their fragile souls. Everything is a problem. But I digress where there is light there is also dark seeking to rob your existence.
If you're familiar with Julia Ducournau's work, such as her appetizing female cannibal triumph RAW, then you might be on the fence of her winning the Palme D'Or in 2021 for TITANE. *CITIZEN KANE clap* Step aside OSCAR award winners your totally basic and bland proclivities make me want to ingest my own kidney. Times are a changing and somehow not fast enough when it comes to the ancient behemoth known as the Academy Awards. Yeah, I know I'm throwing shade on the the Academy, but they should be rightfully embarrassed for their soft core high school drama they can't shut up about or the vast inclusivity changes they proudly claim to have made to their award show. Righhhhht... But I digress for a second time.
TITANE is so extra, defying all rationale and embracing obscene absurdity because living in a structured world is so... well basic. We're talking about a protagonist so off the spectrum of mental sanity it almost feels insane to label this a Frankenstein story, but I will. You have a monster with zero empathy which to be fair probably wasn't always the case, but over the course of one's painful existence the lack of empathy shown on such a creature disintegrates. And guess what that creates? Horror. Horror. Horror Horror all over the place. Like imagine a world so crippled by trauma, pain, stress, apathy, and imagine how such issues translate over time passing from person to person. It breeds like cancer and spreads so rampantly we lose our damn minds developing questioning behaviors, addictions, and moments of unclear rage spewing out senseless violence. Clearly since and even prior to the Covid pandemic we're all just feral animals. Civilized? HAHAHAHAHA... But I promise I digress for a third time.
As the film goes... we have a young child who obsessively kicks the back of her father's seat as he drives, pushing him to inevitably crash the car. So the child suffers severe head injuries and kisses the car as she leaves the hospital after some intensive surgeries. Yeah this girl is screwed. She's kissing the thing that nearly killed her. A sick twisted kinda love grows within her. Fast forward to her young adult self, she's a sexy dancer, erotically thrusting herself upon the powerful shiny cars being presented and sold at an auto show. Cue in the Zombies "She's Not There" as we learn she's a hollow instrument for the mere attraction of men gazing upon her sex organs and bone structure hidden behind the skimpiest clothing. The song is very telling and Ducournau is clever here, because this environment feels so cagey and claustrophobic-like, however Alexia (oh by the way is the name of the protagonist, played by the brilliant Agathe Rousselle) walks with authority and an ice cold demeanor nearly like a robotic assassin with irritating precision. Also I couldn't help but wonder if her Alexia name was a play on Amazon's Alexa for the sake or joke of it being a machine. It's clever if it's true and if not a hysterical coincidence.
But what also appears to ring pleasantly true is TITANE passes the Bechdel test, which is a feminist test introduced by graphic artist Alison Bechdel on a comic strip in1985 called Dykes to Watch Out For. It passes all three rules: 1. A film must have at least two women in it. 2. Both women must talk to each other 3. They have to talk about anything but a man. Suffice to say Alexia while taking a shower at the end of her dancing shift talks to another woman, Justine about nipple piercings. It works. Alexia then goes on a murdering rampage and personally I couldn't for the life of me fully figure out what her motive is other than not liking humankind. She feels alive with, around, inside, on top of and having sex with cars. It's all she appears to care about, until whoops one night she's feeling so frisky, she has sex with a car and is magically impregnated by said car. Now the plot really thickens and drastically alters what action follows next. She brutally murders at least a half dozen people and goes into ultimate survival mode and it is is so EXTRA. And a lot of people disagree with this plot point and I understand where it's coming from but from an artistic standpoint, I'm viewing this as a Salvador Dali painting, here. Alexia's spur of the moment grand idea is to smash her nose on a bathroom sink, chop off all her hair, tape up her breasts and pregnant belly to disguise herself as a fire captain's long lost son who went missing a decade ago and miraculously returns aka Alexia. Vincent (played by Vincent Lindon) the fire captain doesn't question this at all, and accepts Alexia fully aware she's not his biological son. Is Alexia taking full advantage of a grief stricken father? Yes, absolutely and it's horrendous, and callous. For Vincent, however, it's the sense of connection and ability to share his love for someone even if it's batshit crazy especially if that person is pregnant with a car baby and is a serial killer. Yet throughout all this insanity there are these odd tender moments shared between Vincent and Alexia.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing to me isn't the abrasive violence, or Alexia being impregnated with some kind of car baby, it's the unknown in her thinking. Her thoughts evaporate like steam in a shower, her emotions are nonexistent, her actions are nonsensical which all lead to two humane moments that include Vincent; when she cares for him in the bathroom after he's taken way too many steroids and second when she gives birth to the car baby. In a way her existence has purpose in giving Vincent an opportunity to be a father again. The circumstances that lead to such an event are outrageous but there is a circle of being present in the story which in a loosey goosey kinda way or perhaps by default gives the protagonist a hint of depth. Alright maybe that's why it won the Palme D' Or.
Alexia is the most destructive protagonist, who is the equivalent of a wild mustang refusing to be tamed or broken into submission. However when you fuck a car or vice versa it would be like getting jabbed while attempting to pull a bull by its horns. In other words there are just some things in nature you should not intertwine with especially if it makes your breasts leak out motor oil or metal breaking through your skin. Ouch! It hurts to watch. TITANE is worthy of its cringeworthy status, mimicking how painful it is to live with certain realities even when it's blended with fantasy. And to bring in another analogy, there's a reason you don't touch poison ivy if you're not willing to pay a price or suffer and intense consequence. To bring it back full circle from my FRANKENSTEIN fascination, when man attempts to forage a kind of science to make our existence better juxtaposes nicely with TITANE'S theme of the exploitation of gender, in that as Ducournau stated and I'm paraphrasing, " When men kill in movies its not always justified but often times when women kill in movies there's almost always a justification to why." So in creating Alexia who has zero emotion, just kills because she's a monster, and not explaining away that in her own story breaks a construct. Personally, I feel like that's the driving power in this film, aside from the minimal dialogue, and gorgeous cinematography as well as color scheme. Sound design also topnotch. The performances by Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon were captivating, wildly intense, and beyond a level of acting that chilled my bones.
TITANE fascinates and terrifies me, but molds itself to defy the constructs we find ourselves imprisoned in while having the tenacity to survive despite horrific consequences. Think of all the unimaginable horror women endure and what it does to them, or how they embrace a new persona whether it's abuse, violence, inequality, harassment, sexism, racism, whatever it is there is instinct to evolve from the darkness even if it is to evolve into more darkness. TITANE is one of the best films I've seen in a long while and from a woman's voice displays a prominent and creatively evocative approach, so step aside patriarchy there's new bad bitch in town. Cheers!