I don’t care who you are.
The death of innocence at 60 miles per hour, shattered glass and splattered blood defining a reconstructive rebirth, rewiring the brain, an acolyte of the twisted alloy god that created you. The engine roaring to life, pistons firing with explosive force, superheated metal exchanging fuel and flame. The unholy machines we’ve created, worshiping their power by synonymizing masculine carnal desires, lust and speed intrinsically intertwined as flesh and metal become one. Answer the call, the allure of the mechanical rumble, give in to the salacious cravings and embody the insanity. Let the pent up aggression and internalized conflict release, cracked skulls and pierced grey matter in your wake until all semblance of expectation and normality is burned down in a raging inferno.
Inky black motor oil coursing through your veins, a twisted metamorphosis slowly unfolding, clawing to escape the constricting confines of its host. The world bears down, pressure building and culture constantly restricting. What does it mean to escape that pressure, to become something new, to completely redefine your being in search of the true self that lies somewhere deep within? What does it mean to release the repressed rage built by metal resonance and external societal toxicity, to spill blood as a response to the normalization of mistreatment and sexualization, devouring and destroying until the catharsis becomes vacuous and it becomes time to build anew.
The opening act of writer-director Julia Ducournau’s Titane plays out like a high-octane slasher, a neon-drenched French amalgamation of influences from Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) and Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) without sacrificing an ounce of Ducournau’s signature brand of extremity. Equal measures grotesque body horror and pulsating raw sexuality, utilizing The Kills’ “Doing It to Death” to its fullest extent by visualizing the song’s relentless, but ultimately hollow pursuit of bodily pleasure in a kinetic and spellbinding dance sequence featuring Agathe Rousselle’s protagonist Alexia. Her calm surface level demeanor a façade to hide a million layers of trauma and pain, a combination of fixations stemming from a car accident she suffered as a child that resulted in a titanium plate being affixed to her skull, along with encroaching external pressures and predatory men lusting for her as they conflate repressed desires.
The film moves from there with such blinding, unrelenting speed, a maddening onslaught of constantly escalating insanity, refusing to let off the gas as it propels forward. But as Alexia’s brutal release of energy unleashes upon her surroundings it hits a breaking point that inverts the film on a dime, a lightning fast switch from the fiery throes of its pulse-pounding slasher intonations into something far more tender, maintaining its metallic extremity while infusing the familiar warmth always found at the center of Ducournau’s work. Her ability to so seamlessly integrate genuine emotion and universal experiences with a lens tinted with both femininity and gore-laced terror is astounding, never once losing sight of the larger picture within the grotesque chaos of an insatiable hunger for flesh or a disturbing oil-soaked incubation.
Always seeking to visualize the bodily nightmares inherent to growing up, Ducournau’s debut short film Junior (2011) displayed the terror within the onset of adolescence intertwined with the awkward discovery of young love, and her hypnotic feature Raw (2016) combined bloodthirsty cravings with the journey towards finding yourself in a world pushing you in a thousand different directions. Palme d’Or victor Titane is no exception, body horror to the nth degree blending with an innately human need for unconditional love in a chaotic and unforgiving world. Deconstructs with lurid elegance the brutal prison of gender, intersecting the trappings of both femininity and masculinity in a society hellbent on binary, predefined existences. Rigid concepts and obstructive ideas deeply ingrained into the mesh of everyday life despite it all just being bodies in motion.
There’s a constant catharsis Ducournau presents within the kinetic motion of the human form, the ethereal release in letting the music take you, each perfectly placed needle drop a moment of purity where the importance is placed solely on the bodily autonomy behind each deliberate movement. As Alexia embodies a new existence while suffering the continued trauma of her past, coming to terms with redefining her own personal gender identity is constantly interlinked with an ever-escalating dysmorphia that builds to a grotesque but hopeful rebirth. In the midst of it all, the film’s central relationship weaves a wonderfully gentle and kind energy of understanding and love, accepting someone for everything they are and being there for each other. Sometimes, the truth isn’t as important as the gesture.
Titane is hypnotic, a mesmerizing maximalist work with aggressive intent, wielded with a touch graceful enough to transform its chaotic extremity into something truly beautiful. Bolstered by the metallic soundscapes composed by Jim Williams, combining a heavenly chorus with the industrial booming of Chu Ishikawa’s Tetsuo score to synthesize a haunting, pulsating core, the film’s audio creates a constant sense of disturbed unease, metal grating and voices crying out in pain alongside vulgar splatters and the dripping of oily fluid. Ruben Impens’ arresting cinematography matches Ducuournau’s insistence on the human form as a central ideology, framing each motion with deliberate persistence. A decidedly shocking, horrific, and vulgar film flooded with immense heart and genuine beauty, to be born again, embodying our true selves. Long live the new flesh.
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