Julia Ducournau’s Raw had a simple premise that belied the depth and sophistication of the film. A student at an intense veterinary school discovers she’s a cannibal. It invokes a Frank Hennenlotta style madcap horror comedy, and although Raw was certainly horrific and darkly humorous, it was also a deeply meaningful . A rundown of the premise of her next film Titane would be a similar disservice. Suffice to say an exotic dancer and model, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) has an intimate encounter with a car and begins a violent journey of self-discovery.
Alexia’s disturbing journey to self-realisation recalls Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin. She is exploring her body and how it defines who she is. As she begins to change and experience the horror of feeling herself becoming a utility for somebody else’s benefit, transformed into a vehicle for some other. It’s a beautiful evocation of an ancient anxiety in an undeniably modern style.
Agathe Rouselle is extraordinary in the lead. Beautiful and ugly, vulnerable and ruthless, it’s a performance that marks her out as a talent to watch. She’s joined by Vincent Lindon, playing a fireman who believes Alexia is actually his lost son. His performance is humorous in a tragic way but also deeply soulful. As the film becomes more and more about the relationship between the two, the narratives becomes poignant and significant.
Parenthood is a key concern of the film and the two halves of the narrative represent conflicting realities of parenthood. On one side we experience horror. A body transforming, the world becoming hostile and alien, and a terrible sense of obligation that forces a character out of the immediacy of her own survival. On the other, is a father who obsessively loves his son so much that it completely blinds him. Alexia’s own father is indifferent and cruel, helping to create a monster. Lindon’s father character is unconditionally affectionate, which transforms Alexia’s life, but the solution is far from simple.
Of course the profound truths and ponderous exploration of identity is hidden behind a fairly provocative and gory horror exterior. There are moments in this film that extracted audible cringing from the audience. Fans of viscera shan’t be disappointed as Alexia undertakes her murderous adventure in the first half of of the film, but interestingly it’s the second half that really disturbs. When Alexia ruthlessly turns her attention to her own body and her attempts to neglect it to prioritise her own freedom.
Titane is a provocative and chilling mediation on parenthood. It’s a compelling genre piece and a rewardingly experimental character study. Ducournau has achieved a second masterpiece of the macabre and another transcendent genre piece that will provoke discussion for years to come.