Titane (R18, 108mins) Directed by Julia Ducournau ****½
At once a visceral body horror that David Cronenberg would be proud of and a thriller that echoes the events depicted in one of the best documentaries of the past decade, this is a stunning, absorbing assault on the senses, that is both challenging and richly rewarding.
Building on the provocative, evocative, female-led storytelling that made her 2016 feature debut Raw such a striking slice of contemporary horror, Titane offers a twisty-turny, genre and gender-bending narrative that isn’t for the faint-hearted, or easily offended, but is most certainly not a movie you will easily forget.
For the second time in a row, the Cannes jury have been absolutely on the money with their Palme d’Or choice (the last one was a little Korean movie called Parasite).
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At its heart, Titane is the story of Alexia (Agathe Rousselle). Obsessed with cars from a young age, even a horrific accident at age seven fails to deter her love for all things automotive.
Left with a metal plate in her head and proudly displaying a viscous-looking scar, Alexia indulges in increasingly hedonistic and dangerous behaviour as she enters adulthood. For her, declarations of love are met with disdain and a unwanted approach is dispatched with a chopstick-come-hairpin to the brain. We subsequently learn, he’s not the first either.
A moment of vulnerability suggests she might be able to make a lasting connection, but Alexia’s obsessions get the better of her, and it ends in disaster, a dark moment of the soul involving her increasingly distended belly and a resulting rage that leaves an apartment strewn with bodies and blood.
A tumultuous night concludes with Alexia trying to destroy all trace of her troubled past, fleeing her former life and attempting to assume a new identity. But has her new look really fooled bereft veteran fire chief Vincent (Vincent Lindon)? Or is he simply happy to play along? Especially as he has plenty of demons of his own to deal with.
What follows is a wild, emotional ride that only the most deadened of soul and hardest of hearts won’t be failed to be moved in some way by.
In her debut feature, Rousselle delivers a stunning performance, one that will no doubt see Hollywood banging down her door, desperate for her to be the next Lea Seydoux, although it’s hard to see them being able to find anything to match the challenges here.
Credit too Lindon (2015’s The Measure of a Man) for his complex turn, which plays a significant part in keeping the audience guessing as to the story’s eventual outcome.
A heady, potent mix of themes, aesthetics, sensibilities and set pieces that will remind you of everything from Kill Bill, Baise Moi and Cronenberg’s Crash, to Scarlett Johansson-starrer Under the Skin and this year’s Promising Young Woman and Jumbo, Titane, is first and foremost, a triumph for writer-director Ducournau.
After this and Raw, I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Titane begins screening in select cinemas from November 25.