One of the most remarkable parts of Julia Ducournau ’s feature directorial debut, Raw, is its final scene, which eschews the gushing gore of its climax for a quiet, yet shocking moment shared between a child and a parent. If you left Raw craving more of this, Ducournau ’s latest film, buzzy Palme d’Or winner Titane, is guaranteed to deliver—and then some.
While Ducournau ’s gloriously graphic first film was a slow-cooker, taking its time before digging deep into the, well, meat, of it all, Titane thrusts you directly into the frenetic fray. The opening moments of the film introduce seven-year-old Alexia (Adèle Guigne) as she audibly vrooms along with the car her irritated and short-tempered dad distractedly drives. What happens next—an avoidable, but not fatal accident—sets the film, and Alexia’s story, in rapid motion.
Left with a plate in her head after the wreck, Alexia grows up with a taste for both blood and metal (sometimes simultaneously). A tattoo that reads “Love is a Dog from Hell” in between her breasts and a lethal weapon holding up her shaggy hair, adult Alexia (soon-to-be-superstar Agathe Rousselle) simply fucks and fucks off. While she is clearly turned on by the cars she grinds atop (and sometimes more) at her job as an auto showgirl, she appears completely uninterested in her own kind, with no one—not even her sweet and sexy co-worker, Justine, (Raw star Garance Marillier)—able to successfully break through her heavy metal heart. To quote The Zombies’ song that plays a key role later in the film, Alexia is emotionally “not there.”
After a violent showdown at an orgy leaves a desperate and pregnant Alexia on the run, the movie takes a sharp turn into dramatic territory. Claiming to be a long-missing boy named Adrien, Alexia is picked up by grieving father and aging fire captain Vincent (a remarkably moving Vincent Lindon). It is then that Alexia begins her transition into Adrien, trading her fishnets and piercings for sweatshirts and binding tape.
Although there are scenes of overt body horror in Titane’s second half (especially as Alexia’s pregnant belly grows and begins to leak oil), this follow-up feature has an emotional core that its predecessor did not. Some of its best moments are the ones shared between Adrien and Vincent as they attempt to “reconnect” after their long years apart, awkwardly learning to work and live together. Keep your ears perked for a touching scene involving—wait for it—the “Macarena,” not to mention some truly unforgettable dance sequences.
If Raw was a raucous riff on female sexuality, Titane is a moving meditation on gender identity and, more specifically, gender performance. While one might expect the jacked-up Vincent to be insensitive toward Adrien’s androgynous appearance and behavior, he is quite the opposite, willing to accept anything and everything in order to have his child safely back in his arms. This is where Titane is perhaps its most shocking, with writer-director Ducournau taking a clear aim at the toxic masculinity that can still run rampant in genre films (and in the world at large).
You may cry as much as you cringe watching Titane. There’s also room for laughs too, with darkly comedic moments offering some levity in the film’s slasher-esque first half. It’s no wonder this was such a hit at Cannes: It’s a film that clearly transcends genre, bringing humanity and heart to its horror and substance to its style. Even those who couldn’t stomach Raw might find something to embrace here, with the colorful camera work of Ruben Impens and multilingual soundtrack giving the film even more life than its predecessor.
Just as viewers were quick to draw parallels between David Cronenberg’s Rabid when Raw came out, there will be comparisons to his Crash when Titane is finally unleashed on movie-goers—especially given the overtly sexual scene between Rousselle and one of those show cars.
But belaboring these comparisons also does a disservice to Titane, and to Ducournau’s bold and beautiful filmmaking. Ducournau is not the next Cronenberg… or “the next” whoever you think her work echoes. Titane makes clear that she’s the future of horror personified, crashing through genre norms and gendered expectations to enchant and disgust us in equal measure.
Titane screened today as part of Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness program. TIFF runs September 9–18, 2021. For more information and showtimes, visit the festival’s website.
Writer-director Julia Ducournau’s Titane is a moving follow-up to Raw—a bold, brash rumination on identity that might make you cry as much as it makes you cringe.