Saturday, January 29, 2022


Not related to the movie itself at all, really, but for the second time in as many weeks, I was clumsy in getting my popcorn into a stable position while managing soda, coat, and backpack, this time spilling just about the whole container all over the floor. As was the case when it happened in Belle, I felt completely mortified, because being 25 years away from having that particular job does not make me any less sympathetic to the people who are going to have to get that tidied up before the next show. The funny bit, though, was that someone saw this and handed me the "1 Free Large Popcorn & 2 Large Sodas" coupon you get when you join the Brattle as a member so I wouldn't go without. It's a very cool thing to do, but I think I may have a couple in my wallet and ten years' worth tossed because that is far more popcorn and soda than I can take for one showing (although I should maybe ask if I can have my second soda ready for the tail end of a double feature sometime), and it amuses me that apparently this happens to other people too.

Closer to the film, the timeframes that go into making movies are kind of strange. I saw filmmaker Julia Ducournau's first movie, Raw, at MonsterFest in Melbourne five years ago, and even without the pandemic sort of messing with time, that trip seems both relatively recent and a while ago, and I'm not sure whether four or five years to get her second feature made is a long time or not. I know folks who hate the term "elevated horror", but what Ducournau and folks like her do is different than the folks who can knock a new movie out every year because they're either doing work for hire or not making something terribly elaborate (or alternately trusting the FX specialists when they do). It's not a quick follow-up, and I actually lost track of how I apparently liked Raw more walking out of that theater in Australia than I remembered later.

Can't say I liked this one as much. Even before the sexy/bloody/crazy first act finished, I kind of found myself flagging (though the bit where there were just so many people to murder made me laugh for how delightfully nasty it was), and got really fidgety during the rest. I could see what they were doing well, but I must also admit that I've grown impatient with movies where you have to work out that what you see isn't literally what's happening - if fooling the audience is part of the game, I prefer it come with a rug-pulling moment rather than some sort of winking ambiguity. Parts of this movie, I think, would probably hit harder if you assume that Alexia is raped by her stalker and concocts the whole thing with the car and all the later bits about bleeding motor oil and having something metallic within her as a defense mechanism, but I don't know that it's fair to make the viewer reconstruct something that didn't happen on screen and isn't revealed in order to fit things together, especially if that viewer is like me and doesn't have a real handle on what is and isn't a likely delusion. Alfred Hitchcock's heavy-handed explanations as in Psycho may be psychologically dubious, but putting that in the movie means there's no second-guessing it: That's how things work in the movie, and you don't have to worry about whether it's realistic or not at that point.

Titane has a lot of things you've got to see at least once, and like a lot of horror by/for/starring women, it's entirely possible something in it is going to resonate strongly with someone who is Not Me; there's a lot of pregnancy body horror and queer themes that don't mean as much to me as they would to someone closer to it. Still, when I face the inevitable question of which "French woman sort of getting it on with a machine" movie I prefer from the two I saw in last year, I'll probably go with Jumbo, which may have a layer or two less but communicates a bit better.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 January 2021 in the Brattle Theatre (Some of the Best of 2021, DCP)

The descriptions for Titane as it played festivals and made its way to theaters were notably vague, calculatedly so, perhaps because writer/director Julia Ducournau often seems to have bolted two movies together and folks pulled in by one may be disappointed to get a heaping bowl of the other. The sort of switcheroo she pulls on the audience can pay off, but in jumping from the outrageous to the merely very weird, she doesn't necessarily do either side of the story any favors.

She starts by introducing the audience to Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), a model and dancer who mostly works car and boat shows, the sort of gig selling the idea that this machine will make a hot girl wet. It may not be far from the truth for Alexia; she's been excited by cars and metal even before the accident that led to doctors putting a titanium plate in her head. Indeed, she seems more excited by the nipple piercings of fellow dancer Justine (Garance Marillier) than the girl they're attached to, and she seems quite fond of her titanium hairpin beyond how well it lets her deal with a fan who stalks her in the parking lot. It doesn't seem to be her first time using it that way, but she soon goes way overboard and winds up on the run. That's when she notices that she bears a vague resemblance to the digitally aged image of a boy who disappeared ten years ago at the age of seven, and soon finds that his father Vincent (Vincent Linden) is willing to overlook a lot of things that don't feel right to have his son back.

This description elides some important events, such as how Alexia's classic muscle car seems to come alive after the first killing, leading to what sure as heck plays as a sexual encounter that leaves her pregnant. Once that happens, no matter how twisted and uncomfortable things get later, the audience can't help but think "okay, but what about that? How's that going?" It's truly strange that for as much as the start of the film establishes a certain pathology - she was obviously drawn to cars even as an awful-seeming seven-year-old and the metallic implant gave her more reason to identify further with them - that never particularly matters once Vincent has taken "Adrien" in and made him part of the firefighting team. There are icky moments that depict something weird going on in her reproductive organs, but it never pushes her to act in a way that someone without this particular issue wouldn't.

At that point, a lot of the attention has shifted to Vincent, and that's not a bad thing: Actually-first-billed actor Vincent Lindon gives an impressive performance as a man whose identity as a father and firefighter requires complete confidence and authority despite being utterly desperate, with every single performance choice made building that up a little more. The way Ducournau and her co-writers keep Alexa/Adrien around so that the audience can watch that never passes the sniff test, and fails it in ways that are not nearly spectacular enough to get a pass in the way that Alexia's mania does. There's a line about Vincent refusing a DNA test, but do the cops seriously not fingerprint "Adrien"? No social workers? No physical for someone who, at the very least, has recently had their nose broken? Even if you figure "Adrien" doesn't need certification or examination because he's meant to be a mascot, and the rest of the station is terrified of losing Vincent's favor, any suspicions are quickly pushed aside. The movie that got Alexia into Vincent's house (or near those sexy fire engines) would have her reacting to that, but the one which is centered around Vincent can't upset the apple cart until it's time.

At times, it's almost as if Ducournau wrote the first act and then realized that she maybe couldn't sustain that level of out-and-out craziness for feature length and came up with something still unnerving but more manageable. One can't exactly say that this movie plays it safe at any point, but it's interesting that she does a bit of what she did in Raw toward the start, getting a gross-out reaction from Alexia's surgery but then going relatively light on the gore thereafter And when she and Agathe Rousselle feel free to let loose on Alexia being weird and awful, the film plays as terrific black comedy, whether Alexia's making her father squirm, making the audience believe that killing makes both her her and the car horny, or a dance scene that doesn't make any damn sense but which plays out exactly as funny as it must have been in Ducournau's head. Alexia doesn't talk a whole lot but Rousselle is great with body language and attitude.

Titane is electrifying in its best moments, and what's on screen is always people giving all they can, whether it be Lindon and Rousselle or the terrific cinematography by Ruben Impens. Those great scenes and complete commitment are the sort that make a viewer tell friends that they've got to see this, even if they spend a lot of time asking why these people are doing this without exactly being intrigued. There are two potentially fantastic movies inside this one, and maybe they don't mix, but it's better to have their conflicting weirdo natures on full display rather than have them cancel each other out.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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