Mini Film Review: Titane (dir. Julia Ducournau)
Palme d’Ors aren’t just awarded to any old movie (well, usually not—sorry I, Daniel Blake you were fine). So when a body horror pic from a rising French female director wins, you have to sit up and take notice. Julia Ducournau’s Titane is a follow-up to another earlier provocation, the college cannibalism movie (to be entirely reductive) Raw that I wasn’t as keen on as most, but which had filmmaking verve and showed off a talent who was already well on their way.
I am cooler on her latest, but still confident in her abilities. That is a thrill. There's nothing wrong with not making unimpeachable masterworks on your first and second try. In fact, it is Ducournau's confidence with her prickly material that assures me to keep watching and anticipate what's next.
It’s not necessarily that Titane is a bad movie. Because it isn’t. It’s shot very well by Ruben Impens, the editing of Jean-Christoph Bouzy is often compelling, and its provocations of the body and the mind—while perhaps overworked—are nonetheless toe-curling in how visceral they are rendered. Props to the make-up department there. But Ducournau’s film is ultimately a better one to talk about than to watch. Post-film conversations will be no doubt filled with various interpretations on its many themes. Predominantly themes of body dysmorphia within men, women and transgender individuals. But the sensation of actually sitting down to watch the movie was not an all too pleasant one.
To digress momentarily to David Cronenberg, to whom Titane has been most commonly and obviously compared; his films, at least up to a certain point in his career, were genre entertainments. Yes, they were often gross (memes don’t originate from 1981 for nothing!) but they provided the thrills and the jolts of horror and science-fiction. They are often incredibly rewatchable and yet no less complex in their psychologic and physical ideas. Titane isn't that. It’s got the body-gore, but it often sits uncomfortably alongside its more ambitious narrative choices. It’s so French arthouse as to almost be parody. But then even through some of its zanier passages, it is rarely enjoyable. And for a movie with this many surprising elements, that feels like a failure.
On one hand, Titane feels too mature (as if it can’t acknowledge the inherent silliness of its concept) and yet not mature enough (like a rebellious teen daring you to react to its antics). Many have already lauded Ducournau as one of the best working directors. I think there are still early career shakes to iron out. But if nothing else, the performances of Agathe Rouselle and especially Vincent Lindon are a gift, and vital to Titane’s lasting impact once its opening passages—which are ripe with propulsive energy—conclude.