Female filmmakers have certainly enjoyed an extraordinary year in 2021, with Chloé Zhao becoming only the second female director to win an Academy Award with Nomadland and Jane Campion now the frontrunner for Oscar-glory with her revisionist western, The Power of the Dog. Such a sentiment was shared by the Palme d’Or-winning filmmaker of Titane, Julia Ducournau who said, “women kicked serious ass this year,” with her success at the Cannes Film Festival acting as the perfect illustration of such female triumph.
Only the second film of the young French filmmaker, the violent killer thriller Titane follows her previous 2016 effort, Raw, a clever cannibal flick that was more interested in a coming of age commentary than its blood-thirsty appetites. Where Raw felt restrained, Titane feels rather clumsy, a hodgepodge of contrasting ideas and images that never seem to properly form together into a convincing whole.
Inspired by the provocative violence of new wave French extremity, Ducournau’s film is dark and dingy, telling the story of Alexia, played with compelling dedication by newcomer Agathe Rousselle, a young woman who remains psychologically impaired by a life-changing injury in her childhood. With titanium plates fitted inside her head, Alexia becomes something of a vigilante turned villainous serial killer as she seeks out new victims seemingly at random.
Beneath the metallic skin of Titane, however, Julia Ducournau wants you to believe there’s some existential truth to it all, an answer discussed through violence and bizarre sexual acts, though, in reality, there’s little to actually glean from the film’s empty provocations. The question of identity in an ever more disconnected world is certainly touted, though Ducournau never gives any compelling evidence for this case, forcing the audience to eke out their own meaning from very little at all.
Stalking the streets and houses of Martigues in France, Alexia repeatedly begins seeing the same poster and video news reports of the same missing child before deciding to claim that the missing individual is herself. Transforming her body in a graphic scene inside a train station toilet, Alexia adopts a new identity as she is inextricably accepted into the life of a desperate father, Vincent (Vincent Lindon).
Their relationship has plenty of wiggle room for exploration and the film is at its best when Ducournau investigates this fascinating dynamic, showing a man so desperate to see his son once more he is willing to embrace fiction. A firefighter and authoritative leader, Vincent’s own drive to save lives works in captivating contrast with Alexia’s own desire to take them, even if the film is far too preoccupied with its own ‘controversy’ to explore this more thoroughly.
Armed with a Lynchian approach to its own visual identity, Julia Ducournau seems convinced that her own film is armed with real revolutionary artistic conviction, though, in reality, it’s nowhere near as radical as it thinks it is. Whilst its shocking, provocative images will brand themselves into the retina’s of every arthouse lover, it ultimately holds little depth beneath its flashy exterior.