Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes a film like “Titane.”
Julia Ducournau’s 2016 debut “Raw” had people passing out at the Toronto International Film Festival at its premiere screening. “Titane” is, in my estimation, even more extreme and difficult viewing while harboring an emotionally charged second act that is surprisingly sweet.
Agathe Rousselle devours the screen as Alexia, a woman who survived a terrible car accident as a child and now lives with a titanium plate in her skull. The incident has left her scarred in more ways than one, but she maintains an strong affinity for automobiles.
She spends her evenings grinding away as a dancer at an autoshow as men ogle the new cars and the women on display. Mostly polite, these guys often ask for autographs at the end of the shift, but sometimes they can’t let go of their fantasy woman.
After being followed to her car after work, Agathe does what she has to do to defend herself against a man who won’t leave her alone. When she goes back inside to clean up after brutally stabbing this guy in the parking lot, she’s summoned back to the floor of the autoshow. Not by another person, but by the car she had been dancing on top of earlier.
If you haven’t read anything else about “Titane,” you may have at least seen people talking about the scene. In what I could only describe as “Christine” in reverse, Agathe climbs into the car and consummates their relationship.
And it only gets weirder from there.
The tonal shift to the second half is pretty jarring. Agathe disguises herself as a missing boy to evade capture and finally gets the father figure she’s always wanted in Vincent (Vincent Lindon). It is never clear if Vincent really believes that his son has come back home, but he’s so desperate for it to be true that he convinces himself that it is.
Earlier this summer, Ducournau became only the second woman ever to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Neon’s gamble to release it relatively wide paid off. “Titane” had the biggest US debut by any Palme d’Or winner in 17 years.
Loaded with extreme violence and graphic nudity, “Titane” is quite possibly not going to be your cup of tea. But in a sea of sequels and endlessly exploitable intellectual property, it’s wildly impressive to see such an audacious film that challenges viewers every step of the way.
“Titane” is now playing in select theaters nationwide. Look for it on VOD starting October 19.
Ducournau’s first feature “Raw” is available now on Netflix.