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#TIFF21 Review: Titane (Midnight Madness)

September 9, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Julia Ducournau’s Titane surprised a lot of people when it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes a few months ago, becoming not only the second female-directed film to win, but also the rare genre flick to take home the top prize. Now that I’ve seen the film I can say that it is one of the weirdest movies to ever win the Palme. But it’s no less deserving of the award, with French filmmaker Ducournau crafting a movie that is both horrifying and incredibly sure of itself.

Following up her debut feature Raw (which also infamously played at Midnight Madness), Ducournau has made something damn near visionary with Titane, delivering a viscerally disturbing yet always compelling and at times strangely beautiful movie that defies easy categorization. The film plays out as a mix of psychological thriller, body horror, character drama and French arthouse film, and it’s pretty safe to say you’ve never seen anything quite like it before. There are undertones of David Cronenberg, sure, but Titane is also entirely its own thing. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Without giving too much away about the film, which is best experienced cold, Titane follows a woman named Alexia (Agatha Rousselle), who has a metal plate put in her head following a car accident as a child. This leaves her emotionally detached and with a strange sexual attraction to automobiles, which she fuels into dancing seductively at car shows. The plot also follows a lonely firefighter named Vincent (Vincent Lindon), who never emotionally recovered following the disappearance of his son.

Ducournau weaves these characters together into a story that is as bizarre as it is gripping, while provocatively exploring themes of identity and desire. The film is carried by an incredible, physically demanding performance by Rousselle, who not only contorts herself to portray the physical changes that her character goes through but also subtly portrays an emotional transformation as well. This is matched by Lindon’s surprisingly resonant turn, with the actor finding layers of depth in his sombre, hard-shelled character.

Ducournau’s film is also stylish as hell. The cinematography by Ruben Impens bathes us in darkly gorgeous, neon-soaked imagery, and there are some exceptional uses of music to match. This includes two different versions of the tune “Wayfaring Stranger,” which provides a haunting sort of motif at a couple of key points, and a brutal fight that is choreographed like a dance to the sounds of The Zombies’ “She’s Not There.”

The result is a hypnotic and brilliantly unsettling mix of sight and sound, that combines strange sex and shocking violence with motor oil and body horror. In short, Titane freakin’ rocks. It’s also the first Palme d’Or winner to play at Midnight Madness, which in itself is pretty damn cool.

Public Screenings:

Friday, September 10th – 11:59 PM at Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

Saturday, September 11th – 7:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

Thursday, September 16th – 8:00 PM at Cinesphere IMAX Theatre

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9th to 18th.

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