In the college town where I live, the sound of a car revving usually means one of two things. Either a truck is preparing to peel out from a red light or it’s some 21-year old boy cruising by the undergrad bars in a sports car bought by daddy. It’s all sex and violence, which are the dual languages of Julia Ducournau’s sophomore feature, Titane.
Like a car taken into rough terrain, built without a rollbar, Titane is designed to rattle those who enter this vehicle, weaponizing violence, sex, the body, family, everything put to camera. It’s a film that pushes against expectations every step of the story as the main characters, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) and Vincent (Vincent Lindon), coalesce into a warped semblance of a “found family.” To give specific details would be a grave disservice to a film driven by a desire to sucker punch its audience but this is not simple shock value. Sure, you will witness terrible things, especially when it comes to human bodies, bruised and raw, but humanity always manages to leak through the horror, such as a darkly comic scene involving a drug overdose that turns cathartic through the unexpected use of the “Macarena.”
If I’m to point you towards Titane sans-plot details, allow me a few comparisons. Drawing parallels to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Claire Denis’s Beau Travail feel inevitable, with the former’s marriage of flesh and machine and the latter’s examination of masculine bodies at work and play. It even has scenes that match the religious agony and ecstasy of 1921’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. This act isn’t to imply that Ducournau is retreading ground broken by others. These films are as much of a map as I’m willing to share should you venture into this roaring engine. It’s how I am processing a largely hostile landscape that does not yet have a framework in place for discussion, which feels both alien and exciting. I’m still working through what I experienced in Titane, with all of its violations of the body and tender moments of compassion, blurred together through bouts of sexual and violent magic realism. I can already feel the rumble of insightful analysis and bad takes approaching the starting line but right now, and for probably a long time, I am grateful that a piece of art this transgressive and cathartic exists.
An MFA graduate from Oklahoma State University, Wyeth Leslie is a poet and author interested in the intersection between technology, the environment, and human relationships. His writings have been featured in publications such as The Vital Sparks, Lost Futures, and Haywire Magazine. He can be found staring into the abyss on Twitter: @Wyeth_was_here