8/10 Film is traditionally seen as a director’s art form – for better or worse – and one of the primary tensions of the Disney era has been watching more and more decisions get taken out of the director’s hands. In Marvel movies in particular, what cameras get used and post-production color grading decisions and frequently casting decisions are made at the corporate level, fight scenes are famously outsourced to second units. This is not an environment where directors can develop in or where art gets made, where decisions are getting taken out of their hands to be made with the bottom line in mind, and it’s had me worried about where the next generation of directors are going to come from. There are thriving submarkets of both haunted-house and more independent horror, and there’s always Oscarbate movies to look to, but all of those subsections are growing more uniform in their own ways.
Titane is a rough watch that I don’t know if I’m going to revisit,but I’m not going to ignore the answer to my own fears when it straps itself into a Cadillac and tries to run me over.
Titane is what it looks like when a movie is 100% one person’s idea from start to finish. Everything the film has was clearly imbued to it by writer/director Julia Ducournau, from its fantasy plot to its visual effects bible to its surprising sense of humor – the film is frequently silly, especially in the famous sex scene between Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) and her car. Ducournau makes no attempt to show how this could happen physically, and the scene instead cuts between the car rocking and Alexia inside it with only her upper body visible.
It’s this sort of alternation that identifies Titane as a distinctly original vision. At some points it’s all about bringing the fantasy to life, but others it abandons any attempt to make itself physically believable, and the narrative is expressed though editing and we just move past it.
Titane has an explosive narrative, but it isn’t really all that shocking – it’s just very overtly queer, and film is still a space that’s dominated by a heteronormative view of the world. It builds on not just same-sex attraction, but Alexia’s apparent attraction to metal, knowledge of how trans men prepare themselves and the type of knowledge about women’s bodies and how gross pregnancies can be that ought to be general, but isn’t.
What’s really shocking about it is how fluidly it changes what sort of film it is, and again, this isn’t just about the plot. Titane is as impossible to classify as they say. The strongest genre elements are from body horror and sexploitation, with the plot of Michael Myers dropped into Stephen King’s “Christine.” The comparison to David Cronenberg’s Crash has also been frequent, particularly with the Cronenberg-esque dedication to prosthetics for body horror effects. What’s more interesting is the storytelling mechanics, which shift from traditional editing to dreamlike and folkloric seemingly on whims.
The prospect of rewatching Titane is uninteresting, and recommending it is difficult. A lot of the sharp turns and bizarre plot points that make it a special experience are the kinds of things that aren’t special the second time you see them, and much of what makes it inaccessible is its distinctly queer, female perspective, which is something that should become less common over time.
As it defies any other classification, it’s a film, and one of the highest order. It’s one woman’s vision, unfiltered but tightly controlled, frequently changing subjects but also easy to understand in its own way, difficult to watch and impossible to look away from, gorgeously photographed and ugly when it needs to be, but never quite grotesque. It’s a wonderful film, fully deserving of all its accolades and launching a wonderful new voice to prominence, but I don’t know if I’ll ever see it again.