How unsettling, audacious, metaphorical and artistically engaging can a body-horror film be all at once? After director Julia Ducournau’s debut feature film “Raw,” where the protagonist succumbs to her cannibalistic instincts, “Titane”came to US theatres on Oct. 1. The film is the 2021 winner of Palme d’Or, the highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and depicts a gender-fluid protagonist who becomes pregnant with a car.
Without spoiling too much, the first half of “Titane” follows Alexia, a dancer who has a piece of titanium in her brain (hence the name “Titane”). She kills people and leaves her original family. In the second half, pregnant and wanted as a serial killer, Alexia pretends to be the missing son Adrien of a lonely fire captain, Vincent.
The fact that “Titane” has won the Palme d’Or isn’t even as eye-catching as any of the topics that it explores: posthumanism, religious and mythological references, gender-fluidity and queer identity, toxic masculinity, a bit of Oedipus complex and the most mysterious thing on earth: love. Yes, despite all the violent, physically painful and gory scenes and the weird car pregnancy, the core of “Titane” is supposed to be a story of love and “humanity,” as Alexia establishes a bond with Vincent, a bond that she never had with her biological family.
But does “Titane” really achieve what it claims to do; tell a story about love? Critics have very polarized views on whether “Titane” deserves its Palme d’Or. Some argue that the storyline is chaotic, and that many scenes come off as abrupt and sudden, such as the violence. Ducournau responded by saying that she wanted to create a character that we don’t really need to “psychologize”: just accept that Alexia hates people and likes cars. Sure, we’re all craving for a bad, cold-blooded girl, unapologetically killing (innocent?) people in this boring modern world. But apart from the guilty pleasure of adrenaline rush that comes from seeing highly-charged, flashy murder scenes with “She’s Not There” by The Zombies rhythmically playing in the background, what else do we get from it?
In fact, the plot and character development feel like they come out of nowhere. If Alexia was such an amoral person in the beginning, how can she learn how to love so easily? The movie thus looks more like some sort of “spectacle” – it puts on a show to draw the audience in and creates metaphors that leave ample space for individual interpretations. And all of this makes you ignore the simple fact that it doesn’t really tell a good, self-consistent story, and that maybe there are just too many things in this 108-minute film.
So, should you go watch it while it’s still in the theatres? Yes. Despite all its setbacks, “Titane” is a daring and thought-provoking film that touches on essential topics of the contemporary world. Not to mention that it does a really good job creating a cinematic spectacle — it has scored the biggest US debut for a Palme d’Or winner in 17 years.