Titane

****1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Palme d'Or winner Titane
"The audience laughed at times that were not meant to be that kind of funny, a primate exhalation of surprise and relief." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Titane, titanium. Discovered in Cornwall, two centuries and change of exploitation means that we have from it whiter whites and faster flights. It is a metal of which there are traces in most living things. Some in greater concentrations than others.

It is, at time of writing, not yet rated by the BBFC. The trailer(s) are 12A and 15, at one and two minutes. The screening that Eye For Film attended was 18+ (n/c), and not undeservedly across its 108 or so. Visceral does not begin to cover it. As part of the 29th French Film Festival UK, this was shown at the Glasgow Film Theatre. That face coverings are still mandatory for Scottish cinema audiences added a further element of biological horror to proceedings, but it was not that which caused the person in front of me to squirm throughout, hiding their eyes behind their hands and worming their head under the arm of the person beside them. It was not that which required the ambulance, the house lights up with the film suspended, a flash of thigh and carpet like screenburn on a cathode ray. I cannot say how many of that century and cube of two the film actually ran. There was a gap. It mattered, and it mattered not.

The audience laughed at times that were not meant to be that kind of funny, a primate exhalation of surprise and relief. Even before someone left to the waiting medical professionals, and in greater numbers thereafter, people walked out. I do not feel they were wrong to. I believe in an inclusive cinema, one which opens its arms to all, but as part of that we must acknowledge that some films are not for everyone. Titane is not for everyone.

There are elements of Ballard. As my usual filmgoing companion put it "you write one book about fucking a car..." and yes undoubtedly but the South of France, children of medical professionals, le commandant of a brigade de pompiers. There are clear acrylic heels dangerously close to the clear coat of a car. There is a Ford Mustang Mach One, a selection of fire-fighting appliances, a Nissan GT-R in an urban/arctic camouflage vinyl wrap, a fateful Peugot hatchback, a Cadillac wreathed in flames.

Klaproth named the element for the mythological and this too. Jupiter considered as a luxury automobile. Saturn devouring his motorway. Titanomachy, and masochism, and masculinity, and tyranny. That which is below the flesh, Cronenburg A64. Though that's La Pyrénéenne, and we are nearer Marseilles. The essence of myth is mutability and Titane can be read through the lens of gender from curve to fender a strong line but there are other readabilities. Horror of body and body horror, even bawdy horror, among them.

Agathe Rouselle makes a feature début of startling impact. Levels of physicality here that make others of the wretched method seem dilettante, Daniel-Day Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix might claw and limb and flex but as the old saw goes not backwards and in heels. Isabelle Huppert brings similar intensity but the fishnets and stripper shoes (such as they were) in The Piano Teacher were aspirational and not perspirational. Fluid and compact, I was minded for various reasons of Under The Skin. Not least that nervous laughter from a Glaswegian audience when a man not knowing he was being filmed playing a character he did not know he was playing said to the they that was the she that would be his undoing when she asked why he had asked if she was an actress "because you're fucking gorgeous." Clause out. I mean to dizzy. This film does too.

Vincent Lindon is the commandant, a father, even to Adrien, who is and may not be Alexia. There's a similarity of frame to Bertrand Bonello who is a differently biological patriarch, Myriem Akheddiou and Celine Carrere are mothers to them both and neither. Who are the titans who must be killed to make room for the gods? Cadillac itself was born from the vitriol of Ford, ash made acid as liquidation became transformation. Named for an explorer, the founder of Detroit. The worm gear devouring itself, Prometheus upon the rack and pinion, liver pecked out by winged victory.

Julie Ducournau produces something differently fresh than Raw, but as fierce and to the skin. Writing with the aid of three others credited as consultants, Jacques Akchoti, Simonetta Greggio, regular (film) editor and previous collaborator Jean-Christophe Bouzy. Ruben Impens' camera has many tones to capture, skins of meat and metal, the oleaginous, the diaphanous, blood and spit and tyres. With breaks of club and country score is harder to credit but Jim Williams provides original music and previous work with Ben Wheatley is indicative. Unsettled and unsettling, another form of collision, something that drives into the ear.

Hands are held, but not that of the audience. Not an American Psycho, not even Un Psychopathe Américain. Chrome yes, hydraulics yes, spread for seatbelts yes, real yes, unreal yes, magical yes. "How many of you are there?" and there are allusions to more, to cut and to stab. Everything is surface apart from that hidden beneath it. Self made men of iron include Tony, Tetsuo, the Tiflis meteorologist. There are other materials to make men. In autograph seeking hordes in halls filled with metal and music the secret words behind the forehead for go-go golems, the knock at the window, the knock at the door, the knock of an engine unfed with lead.

It won the Palme D'Or, and not just by beating submission. Ducournau joining Jane Campion with another film for which the words 'unconventional' and 'violent' and 'keys' all matter. Something unalloyed, of uncertain temper, unyielding but not brittle. The temptation to further extend metaphors of materiality is met with fleshy remove. Hair and teeth, broken bones. Mirrors, often seeming from IKEA, doors and darkness. So powerful its unease the cinema becomes some disquiet-theque, wrapped too tightly, wounding, winding, winded, gas-guzzling, gurgling, great.

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2021
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A woman becomes pregnant after having sex with a car.

Director: Julia Ducournau

Writer: Julia Ducournau

Starring: Vincent Lindon, Nathalie Boyer, Dominique Frot, Anaïs Fabre

Year: 2021

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: France, Belgium


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