Four years after marking spirits with her Graveyard, Julia Ducournau is determined to resurrect the French genre (and cinema itself) with her second feature film Titane. Selected in competition at Cannes 2021, the film received the Palme d’Or. Shown in all theaters in France since July 14, does this film keep all its promises? Did the French director confirm his talent? Critical.
It’s an understatement to say that expectations were high around Julia Ducournau’s Titanium. Mainly because the film is so mysterious between its enigmatic trailer and an even more somber tone: Titanium: Metal is highly resistant to heat and corrosion, giving an extremely hard alloy, often used in prostheses due to its biocompatibility. We could only hear distant echoes describing the “mushroom” peeking over the bed from the David Cronenberg Accident.
And indeed, very quickly, Titanium rolls in this direction and launches into a pure sword (at the limits of a revenge movie) when its hero coldly kills one of his fans can’t take a “no” not to. Following his anti-hero Alexia (the utterly insane Agathe Rousselle) in her most ruthless and “basic” instincts (a nod to Paul Verhoeven’s film is obvious), the feature film rushes into ultra-violent territory. The kills follow each other in a way that is lively (this over-inhabited house), innovative (sacred bench) and especially visually neat.
The fiery playground that Julia Ducournau seems to have left to follow the obvious path, and this is despite the sex scenes with established mechanics rocking the specter of Christine. However, the feeling of mutant work emerged. If the slasher is present, it appears to be motivated by a different desire than the genre’s preconditions (despite its agonizing brutality, there’s something oddly pleasing about the massacre).
And indeed, this mismatched tone is a harbinger, the filmmakers dashing hopes after a good twenty minutes to screw things up for the better.
ALEXIA WITH A TITANIUM SKULL
Behind the gore and slasher slasher that many viewers expect, Julia Ducournau actually hides a work that is much more exciting and confusing. Once a strange phenomenon occurs, Agathe Rousselle’s character will turn into a radical movement (what isn’t in the film?) which ultimately causes the long footage to swing. The story of the serial killer gradually fades into a delirious body horror that is very interesting.
A Frenchie body horror that clearly borrows from the work of Cronenberg and David Lynch, two filmmakers that young filmmakers never hide from their adoration. However, it was clear that the French woman’s cinematographic proposal was not satisfied with her. Instead, he comes above all to visit unexplored lands, unique and deeply personal, immersing his character in rich and innovative territory.
The arrival of Vincent Lindon in the Titanium equation shifts the cards even more, the bloody awe of the first moments of metamorphosis into a quasi-fantastic tale and familiar (and sometimes hilarious, “hey macarena!”) family drama. Titanium then moves on to another dimension where the visual shock becomes a visceral shock that won’t end until the final credits launch.
Character bodies are abused, mutilated, assaulted, pushed to their limits… but Julia Ducournau ends up sublime them, making the best of them. And in fact, the most important thing is to show a refreshing and new look on the bodies of all genders (and even more). With clear and logical movements, the Frenchwoman then extended the theme of her first feature film or even complemented it.
If Grave explores the quest for himself while attacking the imperatives of femininity dictated by patriarchal society, Titanium really detonates masculine (or toxic, depending). Above all, the feature film completely deconstructs the gauze of men. The filmmaker then provides an innovative vision of the body and the gaze that the camera provides; and moreover, it conveys a universal message about the idea of identity.
Because in the end, to the director, the idea of the genre itself doesn’t make sense. As a result, the social preconditions of each sex – male virility on the one hand, female sensuality on the other, for caricature – are simply insults to the identity of each and every person. A man has every right to be gentle and sensitive (Vincent) just as a woman can be rude, neglected or utterly resentful of the thought of being pregnant (remember that part of the wine bottle in Gone Girl? You’re not ready like Alexia is.
And beyond his questions about youtation of genres and the human body, we can assume that in the end it is the mutation (genre) of cinema that Julia Ducournau examines through her Titanium. By juggling from one style to another, from one emotion to another, feature films are also objects in full mutation. He’s constantly on the lookout for himself, proving that genres don’t have one and the same face and can open the door to endless possibilities of being completely reborn (the final plan is firm) if not wrapped up in a box.
In a meta-approach, the film loses here and there its power, its frenzy and its rhythm (we accuse a bit of slack before the final third). Minor flaws that don’t prevent Titane from bewildering beauty (what a great job conductor op Ruben Impens behind Grave’s photo is) and from being based on staging as strong as it is subtle.
Better yet, a few flaws don’t prevent the film from ending in the grand finale of the bewitching quirk from which we emerge with such a deep conviction: that we’ve found a film with a unique identity, its own.