By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
After the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined 2020’s Fantastic Fest to a small, totally virtual festival, Austin’s favorite genre film event is back with a vengance. And I say that because the festival officially opened with a tremendously dark and often disturbing body horror film that graphically and literally depicts the impact of both psychological and physical trauma on a person. Though the movie is very often difficult to watch, its overall impact is undeniable. While the filmmakers do go for the throat when it comes to shock and awe, they also inject much heart into the story and that aspect alone makes this movie a very compelling and sometimes poignant piece of cinema.
Agathe Rousselle stars as Alexia, a troubled and tormented young woman who not only suffered a traumatic injury due to an auto accident, but has also lacked the proper love and understanding she craves from her cold and indifferent parents. The film implies that Alexia vies for her parents’ attention by rebelliousness and shock tactics. As this behavior seems to have little effect on them, Alexia lashes out at others and eventually becomes a serial murderer.
After murdering her recent love interest Justine (Garance Marillier) and all of her roommates, Alexia desperately decides to disguise herself and go into hiding. Drastically changing her appearance, Alexia decides to pose as a missing young man named Adrien and “reunites” with Adrien’s father Vincent (Vincent Lindon). Vincent, who is a captain for the fire department happily and emotionally takes her in and is filled such tremendous love for who he believes is his long lost child. This drastically changes things for Alexia, who has never before experienced such unconditional love. However, it becomes more difficult for Alexia to keep up her ruse considering that she is pregnant. And this is a most unconventional and unnatural type of pregnancy.
Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, Titane might be the most unique and remarkable piece of cinema I have ever watched. Though its brutal and visceral violence is often difficult to take, its messages of hope and love definitely make this movie more compelling and watchable. My main complaint has to do with development of Alexia’s backstory. I feel that Ducournau should have shed more light into the troubled relationship she has with her parents. My interpretation of her life is only what I pieced together from the clues given in the film. While I don’t necessarily need every detail of her life spoon fed to me, I wanted a fuller glimpse as to why she becomes a serial murderer.
Regardless of this gripe, Titane is truly an amazing film, but one that is not for everyone. Julia Ducournau utilizes some extreme, bold, and disturbingly imaginative elements to give her audiences an allegory about more than one kind of trauma and their impact on both the physical and psycholgical facets of a person.
Actor Agathe Roussell gives an incredible performance as Alexia/Adrien that is sure to be talked about for generations. Actor Vincent Lindon also performs beautifully as the sad and tormented father who has been struggling for so long with the loss of his son. It really is a heartfelt turn that deserves much love and admiration.
Titane is a rare film that not only disturbs and shocks, but also bewilders and boggles the mind, but in some of the best possible ways. As I previously stated, the violence and body horror is often difficult to watch and take, but its overall heartfelt message and the director’s tremendous presentation of such is what really should be the big takeaway from this often bizarre film.