Director: Julia Ducournau (France, Belgium). Year of Release: 2021
A car hurtling down a motorway at speed. The young girl in the back seat is being a bit of a dick. First, humming or something as loudly as she can. Then kicking her father who’s sitting in front of her in the driving seat. Finally, she removes her seat belt and looks about to leap somewhere. Her father turns round to try to restrain her, and crashes into the side of the road.
In hospital, it seems that its the girl who has suffered most from the crash. As the doctors try to save her scarred body, the insert a metal plate into her cheek. It is made of Titanium. She is – literally – titanic.
Fast forward to one of those seedy car shows where young women writhe on top of car bonnets, while male punters are allowed to look but not touch. One of the women, Alexia, seems to have attracted a particularly loyal following. They take selfies with her and ask her to sign her autograph, which she does without any fuss.
After the show, Alexia returns to her car. There is a sinister man behind her. She increases her walking speed – he goes a little faster too. She finally jumps into her car, and he taps in the window. He’s a timid fan, he says, could she just give him one kiss. She kisses him, then kisses him again, then takes the metal hair pin she’s wearing and drives it through his head.
Some time later, she’s getting it on with a fellow dancer. They met in the showers when Alexia caught her hair in the other woman’s nipple ring. Again, things are generally going fine till suddenly Alexia snaps and its out with the hair pin. One by one, other household members arrive to be summarily dispatched (in a film that takes itself quite seriously, this is the light relief).
The first third of the film is full of fast-paced high jinx. There’s a little more gratuitous nudity than is strictly necessary, and a lot of blood. But its all a load of fun, in a certain French way. You’re feeling that Julia Ducournau has made a worthy successor to her previous film, Raw. And then it all goes just off piste – so much so that I was initially unsure whether they were showing the reels in the wrong order.
As photos of Alexia start to appear on police notice boards, she goes on the run. Hiding in a disabled toilet, she chops her hair off and breaks her own nose (a protracted and harrowing scene) and passes herself off as a young man who’s gone missing. To do this, she also has to tape down her breasts and her growing pregnancy. Oh, did I forget to tell you? Some time near the start of the film, she has sex with a car (enter your own auto erotica joke here).
She gets taken in by the missing boy’s father Vincent, a fire chief. Maybe it’s Vincent’s grief, maybe it’s his need to have someone to care for, but Vincent never questions her/his authenticity. He takes on the newly renamed Adrien in his fire department. Adrien doesn’t say much – that would give the game away.
And that’s about it, really, The rest of the film consists of Alexia/Adrian doing firefighter things while largely keeping their mouth shut. After all the Sturm und Drang of the film’s opening, it’s all rather placid. One of Adrien’s fellow firefighters questions his identity, Vincent’s estranged wife turns up and finds Adrien naked with fully distended pregnant belly, but she keeps it all to herself.
It’s all a bit of a letdown really. The second part of the film is based on a premise that is just as batshit crazy as the first, but it lacks the early dynamism. I found myself asking what the point was. To be fair, I’d struggle to tell you what the point of the opening was, too, but everything was running at such a high octane pace that I didn’t have the time to take a breath and worry about any of this was making any sense.
So, do go to see Titane. And have a whale of a time watching the first three quarters of an hour, or however long it is. But after than, once Alexia has transformed into Adrien, feel free to leave at any time. There are still a couple of surprizes on their way, but nothing that you really need to stay for, but if you just have to know, I can let you know later.