Friday 19 November 2021

Sydney Film Festival and The Current Cinema - Rod Bishop reviews the wild ride of TITANE (Julia Ducournau, France, 2021)

Agathe Rousselle

Organizers of the world’s leading horror and fantasy film festival in picturesque Sitges outside of Barcelona must be bemused.

They have been at it for 54 years and now one of their own, down the coast at Cannes, has nabbed the Top Gong from the most famous film festival in the world.

Unthinkable is probably close to the mark. After all, even the most venerated of the ‘arty’ horror mob at Cannes like the two Davids, Lynch and Cronenberg, haven’t come within a bull’s roar of taking home the Palme d’Or. 

In 2016, Julia Ducournau’s first film, the cannibalistic-horror Raw, collected the Best New Director award at Sitges. And now here she is, five years later with her second film, landing what is unquestionably the most prestigious recognition a film director can have.

By any standard, it’s a meteoric rise and Titane, by any standard, is a wild ride. 

Vincent Lindon

Body horror at its most expansive, it reconstructs rather than deconstructs notions of gender, sexuality and body-image. Opening with a car accident and a young girl having a titanium plate embedded in her head, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) grows into a woman who has sex with - and gets pregnant by - a car, while doing a variety of murderous things to a variety of people with her lethal hair pin. And that’s just the first act.

Logic is not a strong suit here, nor is it meant to be. Much of what happens makes no sense and the viewer is asked to take plot contrivances on the chin. Playing the main character, Rousselle was cast in the role after only one short film and some Instagram photos. But as riveting as she is to watch, when she has to pass as a man (a French firefighter!), we don’t believe it and have to watch incredulously while her male firefighting colleagues take forever to twig to the truth. 

It’s reminiscent of the character of “Onion” in The Good Lord Bird, an African-American boy dressed as a girl throughout this Civil War era television series, clearly male and recognized as such immediately by every black he meets – male or female – but not by any of the whites, who are stupid enough to accept his feminine gender. 

Here, Ducournau seems to be saying most men wouldn’t know a cross-dressing, gender-bender, serial killer if they fell over one. There is one exception, however. The firefighting chief Vincent (Vincent Lindon) who wants Alexia (now known as Adrien) to be his lost son. 

Vincent is like a 21stCentury incarnation of Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) in Some Like It Hot. When Jerry (Jack Lemmon) reveals he is not a woman and Osgood replies: “Nobody’s perfect”, you can almost hear Ducournau and her characters laughing their heads off.


Titane has already screened at the Sydney Film Festival and begins screening at your cinemas across Australia on November 25th.

Julia Ducournau with the Palme d'Or


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