Thriller film ‘Titane’ shows that unique storytelling isn’t dead

Thriller film ‘Titane’ shows that unique storytelling isn’t dead

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When filmmaker Julia Ducournau premiered her first full-length feature, a 2016 cannibal coming-of-age horror story titled “Raw,” at the Toronto International Film Festival, no one was ready for the nauseating and out-of-the-box narrative, and multiple audience members allegedly passed out in the theater.

What followed was the beginning of a writer/director who would bring an entirely new voice to the big screen, doing so with a modest dread unlike anything else in 2016. No horror film in the last few years has been able to capture the brutal and realistic trauma encapsulated in “Raw.” A three-year waiting period ensued following Ducournau’s first film, and fans anxiously waited for the French filmmaker’s next step.

Then came the announcement of “Titane,” Ducournau’s second-ever feature film, in September of 2019. On almost all movie databases, the synopsis to “Titane” — French for titanium — shied away from any teases and just defined the chemical element.

The mystery around the movie built up excitement that would peak in April 2021, when it was announced that “Titane” would be a part of this year’s Cannes Film Festival and in its official competition. The French film is scheduled to make its U.S. debut on Friday, Oct. 1.


“Titane” is, in one instance, a body-horror film about the transfiguration of a serial killer. In another, it is a dark comedy about the mechanics of pregnancy when the protagonist is impregnated by a car. Finally, mixed in is a father-son coming-of-age drama that’s eerily heartwarming.

The film’s premiere in France brought out energetic afterthought, with IndieWire calling it “one of the wildest films to ever screen at Cannes,” and BBC naming it “the most shocking film of 2021.” After a wave of critical bliss from the glamorous premiere, “Titane” became the first horror movie to win Cannes’s Palme d’Or, the most prestigious prize at the festival.

Ducournau’s film comes from the heart — or what’s left of it after viewing the movie — and I can tell you that this was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. It tells the story of Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), who goes through some of the most absurd trials and tribulations ever put to film.

In her second acting performance ever, Rousselle displays the pains and affections of a lost soul almost perfectly. Her evocative display of emotion is an ecstatic performance for a newcomer. When she’s in pain, the audience is in pain. When she dances, the audience wants to dance. That magic power comes in rare form in today’s stale output.

The odyssey that is Alexia’s escape is a thrillride filled with unexpected turbulence, and I’m sure it hasn’t left the heads of the audience of the Toronto International Film Festival — where it played last weekend — as well as those who attended Cannes. A car wreck during Alexia’s childhood follows her in unseen ways into an adulthood rife with problematic schemes, sex work and graphically-depicted violence, all happening while Alexia confronts her incoming motherhood and identity as a whole.

Although it’s as wild and fantastic as the first set of reviews made it out to be, there are definitely some issues that spread across the 1 hour and 48 minutes. At times, characters pop in and out of scenes for no apparent reason and then leave the viewer perplexed and struggling to understand important moments.

Even through its problems and plot holes, “Titane” is so unique in its captivating storytelling that viewers escape from reality and really appreciate the adventurous spirit of Ducournau’s ambitions. The director confronts the lack of anti-heroism in today’s films and conceives a character whose motives are as original as they are cutthroat, accompanied by the filmmaker’s marriage of menacing violence and strangely humorous direction.

Even its most violent moments sometimes call for laughter, especially when the moments are immediately following a heightened suspense that only a couple directors working today can successfully execute. But that’s the beauty of Ducournau — her ability to leave the desensitized audience of today passing out and calling for an ambulance is talently inexplicable. You’d think that we’re past the point of shock factor in the 21st century, but “Titane” is a step toward cinematic rejuvenation.

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