(A belated) part of me and my girlfriend’s 30-movie Halloween marathon.
There’s something disconcerting about Alexia from the first time we meet her. We first see her as a little girl (Adèle Guigue) in the backseat of her father’s car where she makes distracting vehicle noises with her mouth and instigates her elder to the point where you swear she wants to cause a car accident. Sure enough, her father crashes the car, an accident that cracks Alexia’s skull and results in her having to be fitted for a titanium plate. As soon as she’s out of the hospital, she runs up to the car, wraps her arms around it, and gives it a kiss on the window.
The opening minutes of Julie Ducournau’s Titane set the stage for a movie that is violent, grotesque, and at some points, just plain revolting. There is some underlying beauty in the mix of tragic and absurd circumstances that Ducournau plays on, with metaphors of transgender acceptance and the human body’s malleability, but it doesn’t always coalesce into something that feels as meaningful as much as it does abrasive.
Back to Alexia. Following the unnerving opener, Titane flashes forward several years to adult Alexia, played by Agathe Rousselle, who is working as a stripper at car shows. Her head is still half-shaved where the plate was inserted, and lives a life of mostly fast cash and steady brooding. When an aggressive male fan of hers approaches her car one evening, she violently murders him inside her Cadillac. Hours later, she has sex with that Cadillac — I will not describe the innerworkings, dear reader, that’s for you to witness yourself — which leads to her stomach protruding out, her breasts leaking motor oil, and her vagina excreting another gooey black substance. I’m sorry, I have to be visual because I know you might already be out on watching Titane as its been described.
Titane is essentially split into two halves. The first is a depraved exploration of Alexia. Scratch that, the whole film is a depraved exploration of Alexia, but following her sexual rendezvous with the Cadillac, Alexia inexplicably goes on a murderous rampage. With that, when she’s on the run from law enforcement, she decides to assume the identity of a boy named Adrien Legrand, who went missing ten years ago. She cuts off her hair, tapes down her breasts and engorging stomach, and smashes her nose of a sink. When Vincent (Vincent Lindon), a muscle-bound firefighter, sees “his son” for the first time in a decade, he is moved to tears before taking “Adrien” back home. This sets into motion a whole new life for Alexia, who will join her dad on the fire department as he’ll accept his son whether he’s his son or not.
Titane ostensibly wants to say something about body dysmorphia, gender identity, and trans acceptance. Vincent’s blind acceptance of his son the more increasingly obvious it becomes that Alexia is not Adrien suggest something more tender and meaningful, an aspect of the film which would be more palatable had Alexia (a) not murder a half-dozen innocent people (the creepy fan not included) and (b) not commit such a heinous act of impersonation. Ducournau’s statements rendered ineffective due to the protagonist’s sociopathic nature. This is a film that strives for shock more than it does social commentary.
So where does that leave Titane? Entertaining as a work of New French Extremity, predicated on grotesque yet elegantly constructed imagery and a fierce performance from Agathe Rousselle at the center. An ambitious movie with mixed success is still far more enjoyably than a modestly successful, middle-of-the-road film that plays too safe to leave an impact.
One other detail to consider: although that specific crowd is probably unlikely to seek out a French movie with this subject matter, could you see someone with mixed-to-negative views on transgender individuals seeing this movie and thinking of them with more compassion? There’s an argument to be made that anyone not on the accepting side of the aisle would see trans people with more contempt after viewing Titane. Assuming those same people would even continue watching it after the Cadillac sequence.
NOTE: As of this writing, Titane is available to stream on Hulu with a subscription.
Starring: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, and Laïs Salameh. Directed by: Julia Ducournau.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!