Julia Ducournau’s Titane took Cannes by storm this year, earning the top prize, the Palme d’Or.
Part body-horror flick, part dramatic thriller, with a touch of wild sci-fi, Titane tells the story of a murderous young woman who steals the identity of a long-missing boy to avoid capture by the police—all the while concealing a pregnancy.
Oh, and the pregnancy occurs because the woman has sex with a car.
Yup, you read that right. That’s what we’re working with here.
Objectively, the beat-for-beat examination of Titane’s plot sounds like “Lifetime thriller meets Syfy B-movie.” An intense car accident. A series of graphic murders. A stolen identity, a secret pregnancy, a grieving and vulnerable father. (And a woman has sex with a car.)
But somehow, these elements combine in a way that elevates the film, rather than drag it down into a more trashy, soapy viewing experience. It’s clear Ducournau is no stranger to the shocking, the bizarre, or the taboo; Titane follows her solo directorial debut on Raw, a film about a veterinarian student-turned-cannibal. Her directorial flair is also bolstered by an impressive performance by Agathe Rousselle, who plays the lead Alexis/Adrien. Rousselle drives home every moment, whether she’s committing brutal-but-somehow-comedic murders à la Villanelle in Killing Eve, or panicking about the fact that she now bleeds motor oil.
Interestingly, Titane is one of those films that shifts halfway through. The first half is more brutal, violent, and shocking; it has all the gruesome kills (and the car sex). The second half is still intense, but in a much more dramatic-thriller type way; it’s all about maintaining cover, concealing the pregnancy, and developing the relationship between not-Adrien and her not-father.
While abrupt genre shifts often kill a film’s momentum, I think it actually works in Titane’s favor. (Or at least it did for me, since I’m more interested in thrillers than shock-horror in general.) The second half also moves into more emotional territory, which gives the audience more to latch on to. It doesn’t quite answer all our questions about Alexis and her motivations, but you do start to feel a certain amount of sympathy towards her.
Now, I don’t particularly want to watch this film again. I don’t even know if I recommend others watch it. But I can say that there was never a dull moment in Titane. I was compelled from start to finish, and whether I was baffled, shocked, or repulsed, I never thought to stop watching.
Much like Vincent in the firetruck dance scene, I simply couldn’t look away.
Titane hits theaters October 1.