twitter/mildredsfierce

If you’ve been anywhere near the film world in the past year, you’ve probably heard of Titane. Directed by Julia Ducournau, Titane is a French body horror film in which – to put it bluntly – a serial killer stripper becomes pregnant with an oil baby she conceives via a Lynchian one-night stand with a Cadillac (yes, it’s a very strange scene). It’s definitely controversial – online audience reviews show a telling clear split between one and five star ratings, and several people even walked out of the Cambridge Film Festival screening I saw. But under all its surreal, disturbing and incredibly uncomfortable moments (*ahem* the nipple-ripping and nose-breaking), Titane ends up having a surprisingly tender family drama at its core.

"Titane is an incredibly visceral film, meant to be experienced sensorially (with the body) rather than critically (with the mind)”

Titane begins with an explanation of its title – we see our protagonist, Alexia, as a child, kicking the back of her negligent father’s seat until he turns around and the car crashes. One brain surgery montage later, and Alexia emerges from hospital with a titanium plate in her brain – hence, Titane. She rushes to the same car, and lovingly kisses the drivers’ seat window. Cut to present day, and Alexia maintains her erotic fascination with cars, becoming impregnated by a Cadillac and leaking black oil out of her vagina. She cannot maintain human relationships – the tattoo between her breasts reads ‘LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL’. After murdering an over-obsessive fanboy when he tries to kiss her, she also kills a fellow stripper and all her housemates in a gleeful, bloody, and surprisingly funny murder spree (‘sorry, is the bathroom occupied?’). Now on the run, Alexia adopts the persona of a long-lost boy called Adrien, presenting herself as male, with short hair, shaved eyebrows and banged-up nose to the police and Adrien’s father, Vincent.

letterboxd.com

This is Titane’s turning point, as Alexia, deprived of a loving father figure, finds a father deprived of a child to love. Vincent takes Adrien under his wing as a trainee firefighter, and as Alexia takes on this identity, the gender-bending almost resembles some perverse twist on a Shakespearean comedy. The comedic ease with which Shakespearean characters cross-dress is not so here – the effort to force the body to the form of the opposite sex is made explicit, as Alexia painfully binds her breasts and her pregnant belly, leaving marks and cuts on her skin. Vincent, too, suffers from self-imposed masculinity, as he injects steroids into his behind in a conspicuously pink-tiled bathroom. In one scene of respite from these dysphoric gender roles, the group of firefighters slowly dance together under soft pink lighting in a particularly homoerotic sequence. Alexia’s titanium coldness melts away as her – somewhat incestuous and definitely Freudian – relationship with Vincent deepens until the film climaxes in an incredible final shot (which I won’t spoil!)


READ MORE

Mountain View

Censor: a flawed but compelling dive into the nature of horror

Titane is an incredibly visceral film, meant to be experienced sensorially (with the body) rather than critically (with the mind). Upon reflection it can seem messy, gesturing vaguely at deeper themes while being intentionally evasive. What’s the takeaway? How are we supposed to feel afterwards? Is Titane just being provocative and difficult to watch for the sake of it? Perhaps it is. But it is the very same repulsive body horror – the ripping, breaking, binding, sex and blood – that enables us to recognise the frailty and penetrability of the body as the source of a more metaphorical human vulnerability. That beating heart behind the bruised and battered skin is what enables Titane’s initially frenzied serial killer narrative to evolve into a sincere family melodrama.