Titane is the new, highly touted feminist cyberpunk/body horror film from
France. Many were surprised when the film won the coveted Palme d'Or at the
Cannes Film Festival, an award that some consider to be even more prestigious
than getting a Best Picture Oscar. Also, its director, Julia Ducournow was only
the second female film maker ever to win at Cannes (the first was Jane Campion
for The Piano). Her previous feature film was the college vegetarian turned
cannibal film, Raw, which was also well reviewed. She has also directed two
critically acclaimed episodes of M. Night Shyamalan’s Apple TV series, Servant.
It might be helpful to some prospective viewers to know that In a recent
interview, Ducournow said, “Everything that people find to be repulsive could be
shown as human.” This seems to nicely sum up her whole film philosophy. This
might just be the most shockingly violent art film since Parasite, although I
don’t think it matches that film for importance and quality.
Like Cronenberg’s Crash which was about people who could only climax if they are
in a car crashes, this film seems to be satirizing some people’s over
reliance/over attachment to technology. This is extremely timely for a people
coming out of a Covid lockdown filled with zoom sessions and computer
interactions that replaced direct human contact.
The film has two parts, both of which are equally engaging. The first half
concerns a young woman who loses her father and becomes a stripper who is
constantly hit on. She takes hideous revenge on all those that would molest her.
In the second half of the film, she finds peace when she pretends to be a
missing boy, and she finds a home working as a fire fighter who everyone thinks
is a male.
Titane stars Agathe Rousselle as Alexia, a very unusual young girl who has a
unique relationship with cars. She loves them so much that she can’t have a
romantic relationship with a real person. The first sign of her mental
derangement and love of cars is when in a car ride, she ignores the radio and
makes sounds that go with the roar of her car engine.
At the film’s start, the young Alexia talks to her dad’s car and seems to give
it a secret message, perhaps convincing it to crash. While in the car she
unbuckles her seat belt which distracts her father (played by the director
Betrand Bonello) who loses control of the car. She ends up with a titanium plate
in her head (hence the title), so she becomes part mechanical or a cyborg. The
first thing she does when she gets out of the hospital is she lovingly stroke
her parent’s car.
I was reminded of the Queen song, I’m In Love with My Car as well as the T Rex
song, Bang a Gong, both of which talks about a woman as if she is a car. But the
film subverts the usual trope and depicts the opposite of objectification
because here an object is seen as a living, lusty being.
Alexia becomes a very successful stripper who performs in neon fishnets in the
while flames dance around her at car shows. Many of the women perform sex acts
on the cars to turn on the male viewers. So it is not long before many customers
are attracted to her, and when they aggressively hit on her or try to force her
into sex, she often reacts violently in self-defense. When a car show patron
tries to kiss her aggressively, she impales him with a stick. Then surprise,
surprise after the murder she is so turned on that she has sexual relations with
her limo. Her preferred means of murder is a single metal chopstick, and she
kills quite a few would be suitors. Soon, there are wanted posters of her
When police get too close to be catching her, she poses as a boy who went
missing ten years ago. She even cuts her hair and tapes up her breasts. She is
surprised when in a good stroke of luck, the boy’s dad, Vincent identifies her
(perhaps he wants his son to be alive that bad).
Surprisingly when she joins the team of fire fighters (with the recommendation
of the boss, Vincent) she blends in better than she ever did before and since
everyone thinks she is male, no one hits on her and her serial killing stops, at
For her it seems that entering a man’s world in which she is thought to be a man
is the perfect way to escape sexual harassment and being seen as a sex object.
In a really weird scene Vincent and Alexis have a slow dance which turns into a
fist fight. Vincent wants his daughter/son to be tough and he is wiling to teach
her/him the hard way.
But all is not well when Alex’s begins expelling black bodily fluids which
suspiciously looks like oil indicating that she might be pregnant with the car’s
Vincent has his own vices, and he would never win father of the year. When Alex
walks in on him shooting heroin, he asks her to help him find a vein.
Although both Vincent and Alex are seriously flawed and pathetic creatures,
audience members may sympathize with them with a certain degree (she only
murders mostly when she is provoked) because they are both suffering detached,
Titane is a disgusting, erotic, hyper violent, sexy, stylish, and original
(although the film draws a little from Boys Don’t Cry and Cronenberg’s Crash)
piece of work that will thrill some and repel others. But if you have a strong
stomach and are looking for something for something daringly different, you
should consider checking it out.