Sunday, October 3, 2021

Revved Up: TITANE

Titane is three ideas for a movie driven into a head-on collision with each other. A female serial killer impregnated by a car pretends to be the long-lost teenage son of a troubled firefighter. If nothing else, you won’t watch it and think, oh, yeah, another one of those. And, yes, that’s actually what it’s about. It almost works. It’s a film about pain—mentally and bodily—and therefore lingers on bruises and scrapes and cuts and burns and breaks and vomit. But it’s also willing to find satisfaction in a gulp of spaghetti or a swivel of a dancer’s legs. An action as simple as a hug takes on an element of suspense. When these characters collide, moments of grace seem unlikely; even as they happen, one doubts the underlying motives. Though I’m unconvinced the movie ever fully or clearly coheres around its provocations, it’s always engaging because writer-director Julia Ducournau is driving down two tracks simultaneously, both intensely, explicitly physical and uncompromised.

First: a brutal and bruising body horror picture with sickening violence following our violent lead (a fearless Agathe Rousselle). The movie oozes, splatters, and strains. The soundtrack is amped up to rib-cage rattling levels as bodies are broken and contorted. Early murder sequences are almost pornographic in their delirious penetration. Even a requisite concocting-a-makeshift-disguise-in-a-public-bathroom scene features a wince-worthy crack of a nose against porcelain, the better to disguise her face. And wherever the knitting needle she wields as her weapon goes—her spree is closer to the queasy up-close perspective of a Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer than the genre distance of a Michael or Jason—we just know it’ll be nowhere good. There scene where she uses it for an impromptu exploration of the engine inside her is an all-time squirm-inducing displeasure.

Second: a surprisingly tender story of broken people who find each other despite a falsehood. She ends up in the home of a troubled middle-aged man (Vincent Lindon) who never found his way back to normal after the disappearance of his young son a decade prior. Now, she shows up, silent and bound in bandages to hide her grown woman’s body, claiming to be the boy grown up. He buys it immediately. And as he makes scrabbling efforts to take her under his wing and reconnect with what he thinks is the child he so desperately needs to make himself whole, the movie takes on a sick, wounded sentimentality.

Ducournau, the French filmmaker whose last film, her debut, was the similarly grotesque med-school cannibal horror picture Raw, is a confident creator of unsettling and unpleasant moments. Ah, but she does it in style, in images rich and textured even as the surfaces on which they linger can be quite disquieting. She extends an unblinking fascination with the human body, with flesh and its pleasures and failings, in ways that could be unflattering to less committed casts. Here, though, she has leads who are all in, and willing to contort themselves in vulnerable positions to make her point. Which is that people do as much damage to themselves as others in pursuit of satisfying their needs. And that interpersonal connection is the savior and sin of our fleshly prisons. It’s better than shtupping a car, at least. The movie’s total commitment to its cracked conceit ends up deflating as many expectations as it teases, squiggling and squirming away from anything expected of it. By the end, I was as worn out as I was intrigued.

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