Written by Hayden Claborn, Writer
One of the most famous film reviews of all time is Pauline Kael’s review for 1972’s erotic drama Last Tango in Paris where she declares “The movie breakthrough has finally come.” I felt this way watching Julia Ducournau’s sublime masterpiece Titane, which won the Palme d’Or back at Cannes in July. It’s rare for a work of art to encompass a totally unique vision. This really is a movie breakthrough in both sight and sound.
Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) is a dancer at an erotic car show where men constantly ask for pictures and autographs, things she would rather not do. But with her normal life disrupted after committing a violent crime forces her to go on the run. To avoid authorities, she assumes the identity of a missing boy named Adrian, whose father Vincent (Vincent Lindon), a local fire captain, accepts Alexia with open arms as his son.
Titane defies genre– it mixes elements of body horror and domestic drama without feeling uneven. The film is about transformation and all the imperfections that come along with that process. You don’t walk away from Titane siding with one character or another. Vincent and Alexia are both deeply troubled individuals with skeletons in their closets. It becomes clear that Vincent has some darkness in his path and issues he’s still attempting to overcome. However, the film communicates that even the worst people deserve love.
There is a dimension of queerness layered on top of the drama. I wouldn’t consider Alexia’s arc a metaphor for someone transitioning, but coming to express something less binary– through her gender fluidity the audience comes to accept her for who she is. In one sequence she gives an erotically femine dance in the body of Adrian. The men who are looking onward are giving confused glances not knowing if to laugh or be turned on. However, Ducournau isn’t aiming for easy answers. Much is left up for the audience to reflect upon.
The farther we go more the film becomes surreal which on the page could turn the audience off. Everything would collapse if not for the Oscar worthy performances delivered by Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Landon. Their duo is a one of contrast. Rousselle for much of the film is wordless and has to rely on her body language and glances. The opening sequence of her dancing on a muscle car is hypnotizing with it’s aggressive sexuality. Much of her sexuality is lost when playing Adrian as she becomes more reserved. In contrast Lindon is given most of the dialogue while delivering the most emotional segments. But both have a fragility to them– at any moment you feel like they could easily break.
Every film fan should see Titane. Julia Ducournau is a filmmaker without peer. People have referenced David Cronenberg, the horror maestro behind Videodrome and The Fly, but she has one upped him with this film. Nobody else is making movies that look or feel like this. Titane is the best film of the year.
Titane is available for rent and purchase on ITunes, Amazon, and Google Play.