Review: ‘Titane’ is one of the most unforgettable cinema-going experiences of the year

Let me say that at least some of what you have heard about Titane is true. I can’t tell you which parts because I don’t know which parts you have heard, but yes, they’re true. They’re all true. This film is a singular work and one of the most original and absurd, and touching films of the year. While I can’t promise that it will work for all of you, what I can promise is that seeing it will be one of the most memorable cinema-going experiences you have.

Ed. Note: As of this writing, there have been nearly 5000 cases of COVID-19 reported in the last seven days here in British Columbia, where I live. While I firmly believe that the big screen is the best place to see a movie, please remember that no movie is worth endangering your own life or anyone else’s. So please get vaccinated, wear a mask and maintain social distancing, and if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, the movie will be out on-demand before the end of the year. Safety first, friends!

In the film’s opening scene, we meet Alexia as a young girl, annoying her father on a drive. She seems intent on causing something, whether it’s the car crash they get into or not, from the moment you see her. Her gaze is intent and sociopathic, and no less so than when she emerges from the hospital with a titanium plate in her head and, while shunning her parents, embraces the car.

Fast forward a few years, and Alexia is now a showgirl (played by Agathe Rousselle), an exotic dancer at a car show, and one with a following. After a show one night, a fan follows her to her car, and for his trouble, he ends up with her metal hairpin in his ear. After returning to the show venue to shower off his drool, she is called to the show floor by a flame-painted Cadillac, in which she eventually climaxes.

This, my friends, is the first ten minutes or so of Titane and by far now the most intense or weird thing you will witness in the following 100 minutes.

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Vincent Lindon in ‘Titane’

Eventually, Alexia is forced to go on the run. To escape the police, she adopts the identity of a young boy who went missing some ten years prior and is immediately taken in by that boy’s father, Vincent (Vincent Lindon), a muscle-bound but ageing fire captain. The film shifts gears here, from the completely wild first act story of a serial killer to an also wild story of found family.

This is a shift that shouldn’t work, and yet it feels so true that it’s hard to figure out how they would have told this story without it. The first half informs the second for Alexia (now going by Adrien), who has never really connected with anyone. The unseen years of emotional trauma have shaped Vincent into a shell of a man just desperate enough to accept this stranger as his long lost son.

Rousselle is fully committed as Alexia, but Lindon steals the show in every scene. As a broken man, physically and emotionally, desperate for control and care for and be cared for. There are layers of depth in his performance that I am sure we will be unpacking for years.

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Agathe Rousselle in ‘Titane’

Titane is a work of singular intent and vision, and Julia Ducournau’s now-established penchant for body horror and stories about families are going to make her one of the most talked-about directors of the year and one whose work will become highly anticipated in the years to come.

Between the writing and the performances, the absolutely gorgeous cinematography by Ruben Impens, and the many twists and turns it takes before getting to its final scene –one we will again be talking about for years– Titane is one of the best, but also far and away one of the most memorable, films of the year.

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Titane won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, screened at TIFF, Fantastic Fest, and Beyond Fest, and is in Canadian cinemas now.


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