For its sheer silliness and towering pointlessness, Julia Ducournau’s gonzo body-horror shaggy-dog story deserves some points. This was the director who had her feature debut with the scary and smart Raw in 2016, which used gruesome cannibalism images to say something about identity and body image. Arguably, her follow-up film, Titane, is doing the same thing, but more facetiously and clumsily – if occasionally with a certain bizarre elan.
Newcomer Agathe Rousselle plays Alexia, a young woman who was damaged by a childhood car crash caused by her negligent father.She had a titanium plate fitted in her head that has given her a kind of survivor’s ruthlessness – a damaged hostility, but also, perhaps, a yearning for a real father figure. She now makes a living as a dancer at car shows and promotional events where she is pestered by creepy macho guys. When one of these fans goes too far, Alexia takes chillingly violent retributive action and goes on the run, disguising herself as a boy to avoid the police.
And there any resemblance to Shakespearean comedy ends. Her disguise involves breaking her own nose in a station toilet – a stomach-turningly explicit scene – and she does this to pass herself off as a very specific boy missing for years whose wanted poster she has seen and would be now about her age. This boy’s poor distraught dad, fire chief Vincent (Vincent Lindon) is just so eagerly overjoyed to get his child back he doesn’t even ask for a DNA test.
There’s one other thing: Alexia has also had ecstatic Ballardo-Cronenbergian sex with a car. And the car didn’t use protection – so they were taking an obvious irresponsible risk on a Lynchian pregnancy. And so it proves.
Titane delivers freaky moments, absolutely, as well as cranking the yuckiness dial clockwise with plenty of violent flourishes. And it arguably has interesting suggestions about gender identity and Vincent’s tender reasons for overlooking Alexia’s increasing implausibility as a young man. But everything is so laboured and crudely directed, without the style and sympathy of Raw. And the big final shot, for which audiences will have been waiting the entire film, is quite feeble. If there is such a thing as difficult second body-horror film syndrome, Ducournau has it.