GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by Julia Ducornau.
Starring Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier.
Horror, France, 108 minutes, certificate 18.
Released in the UK in cinemas December 31st by Altitude.
As a vintage recording of Wayfaring Stranger twangs over the soundtrack, the camera prowls the slick black throbbing underside of a car engine in close up. Slick with oil, it pulses mechanically, appearing to perspire. This unlikely welding of American folk music and biomechnical imagery sets out the stall for Julia Ducornau’s follow-up to the cannibalistic coming of age story RAW. TITANE is a film that takes and twists various elements, including body horror, film noir and slasher tropes among others, and transforms itself into something entirely original with a unique fierceness that has not been seen onscreen in some time.
As a young child we immediately witness how problematic Agathe is. Her behaviour resulting in a road accident that results in a bout of surgery placing a titanium plate in her head. What could have been the cause of her destruction becomes something more as we see her as an adult dancer at motor shows, where she basically gives a Cadillac a lapdance. This extraordinary physical display is only the first sign that this affection could go be going further than imagined. To say what occurs and how would rob you of the jaw dropping surprises that Ducornau skilfully lays out. Let it just be said that what follows is weird, troubling and blackly funny. The first act reaching such a feverish crescendo at one point that it caused a seizure in one unfortunate audience member at the screening I attended, leaving the film frozen onscreen with a blurred yet troubling image of carnal carnage.
From here the film sheds its skin, seemingly shifting the narrative to aging firefighter Vincent. How these Vincent and Agathe connect unfolds in a calmer manner than what has come before. What follows is a transformative (emphasis on the first syllable there) tale that still manages to unsettle the viewer in a way that Ducornau, in only her second feature, has made her own. Equally outrageous and emotional the film eventually reveals a surprisingly tender side touching on parenthood, forgiveness and acceptance. All the while indulging in sex, male machismo, death and wince inducing DIY rhinoplasty.
Probably the most surprising Palme D’or winner since PULP FICTION it can definitely be counted as the most extreme since WILD AT HEART and then some. No doubt it will prove divisive with audiences, especially those unprepared for the wild turns it takes narratively and the physical and mental twists and turns its characters also go through. Comparisons will no doubt be made with CRASH, the Cronenberg adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s provocative novel but Ducornau takes the obsessions of both figures to their (un)natural extremes in a confrontational yet emotionally honest way that while surreal makes a mysterious kind of sense.
In a near mute performance Agathe Rouselle gives a performance that at times is terrifying and entirely sympathetic. Her wiry physical appearance and manner unsettling from her aggressive dance at the films beginning to a sex scene that could well have you peeking through your fingers as it takes an eye opening and painful turn. Perfectly complimented by Vincent Lindon, her exact opposite physically and emotionally with his bulky frame and tragic past practically written across his hangdog face, they make for one of the more affecting and puzzling double acts in a long time. Ducornau bringing them together in a blissed-out dance scene set to the sound of Future Islands as a group of firemen unwind and relax bringing the audience along with them as they try to figure each other, and themselves, out.
As mentioned, before it resembles at times a slasher film, a film noir and a futuristic techno/body horror. Ducornau melds and brings these styles together effortlessly suggesting not only an evolutionary leap forward for the films story and characters but for her own filmmaking itself. For most directors a film like TITANE would be considered a full throttle effort, for Ducornau it feels like she has just rammed the key into the ignition warning us all to stand back and watch whatever she has in store next.