Cannes 2021: The Indescribable 'Titane' Shocks & Rocks the Cinema
by Alex Billington
July 14, 2021
THIS is the film every critic was waiting to finally see at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Something so bold and audacious and original and incredible and energetic that we all erupt into applause as soon as it's over. Titane is the second feature film made by French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, who made her debut with the horror hit Raw back in 2016. She returns to the Cannes Film Festival again to premiere her latest film, Titane, and it fucking rules. Absolute metal. File this one under "you have never seen anything like this" - wickedly original, jaw-drop cinema. Not at all what you're expecting, not what anyone is expecting. Which is the best kind of film to enjoy at a festival. Titane is an extremely brutal, audacious, vivacious take on bad fathers. Which is the simplest description that does not come close to properly capturing everything in this.
Titane is the epitome of indescribable cinema. I can explain what happens in each scene, or vaguely attempt to summarize the plot, but that really doesn't do it justice. There's no way to sum up what's going on in the film without otherwise butchering the nuances and subtleties of how crazy gnarly it is. But I'll try anyway… The title Titane refers to the material "titanium". A young girl ends up in a car crash and a titanium plate is installed on her skull. That's the opening. Then we jump ahead years and Alexia is older, played by Agathe Rousselle, and she loves cars because she hates everyone else. She loves them so much she ends up having sex with one of them. She's also a serial killer - I guess? And uses her knitting needle hair pin to kill anyone that gets too close to her, whether it be a fan or a lover. She finally ends up on the run because, of course, the police are on to her and she tries to hide by pretending to be someone else. That's not even half the film.
Where the film goes next is also indescribable, involving an aging fireman captain (in French a commandant de pompier) played heroically by Vincent Lindon, along with Alexia as she struggles to stay hidden. The whole film is a prodigiously wild and crazy and punk creation, but it works. It works so well you want to get up and dance with the characters in the numerous dance scenes. The song choices are perfect, including one glorious scene using "Light House" by Future Islands. The whole film is drenched in neon lights and vivid colors, which add to the strange and alluring atmosphere. Julia Ducournau slaps us with one of the boldest "fuck-off" stories ever made, featuring firemen, car sex, murders, titanium plates, lonely fathers, and more. Stop reading what I'm saying here and go experience this film without any idea of what you're about to see.
I could tell you that the film is ultimately about bad dads, and a woman who grows up to be one bad bitch because of her awful father, and ultimately finds redemption in the arms of someone else. But explaining it this way is doing the film a disservice, as it's an extraordinary work of cinematic art because it's something you get totally lost in and experience together with a crowd sitting in the same cinema with you. This is the kind of bold work we need more of in cinema - films that don't hold back, offer entirely new perspectives, challenge what we think, take us into places we've never been before, don't follow any rules, and play against expectations. Ducournau knows exactly what she's doing and knows what she's crafting, with both Raw and Titane; there's hardly a moment that might make you question her talent. So all I can say is I'm glad she is making films her way, telling stories her way, and giving us something new to enjoy in the world of cinema.