Julia Ducournau’s Titane set Cannes ablaze over the summer, encouraging pro film critics to gush and garrulously fawn over its strange, supposedly sexy French arthouse sensibilities. But in fact, this might be the grimiest, un-sexiest depiction of France ever laid to screen. It’s the type of film that makes you want to take a shower immediately afterward. About a south of France serial killer named Alexia who moonlights as a showgirl at motor shows, Titane is fitfully disgusting rather than truly disturbing. She eventually has to go on the lam when a witness gets away, and finds herself posing as one paramedic’s lost son finally returning home. Anti-heroes are often the most compelling of cinematic heroes, but no part of this character resembles human behavior, and Ducournau’s flights of fancy (the serial killer is impregnated by a car, mull that one over) are incongruous with a setting and style that emphasizes so-called “real” people. The paramedic father, Vincent, is a bruised mid-50s loner with leathery skin and sad-sack eyes, an elderly woman at a duplex wears decades of cigarettes on her, and the serial killer is a manic pixie nightmare, with the scars to show for it. The heady, try-hard metaphors about technology and identity are obvious and fruitless to the point of, well, pointless. It’s quite a stretch to call this a lucid commentary on the relationship we bear with technology when a low-rider is the last thing associated with modern technology, and Alexia’s sweet but seriously nonsensical bond with the paramedic father is an attempt at exploring transgender empathy that is incredibly contrived given the deranged context. Between characters with confused or nonexistent motivations, a silly, quirky obsession with men-who-just-want-to-dance, and a tone that borders on repulsive, Titane isn’t for most, even those who fancy themselves arthouse fiends. Julia’s got talent to spare though, as evidenced by her roaming camera that knows when to move and when to marvel at a single image.
P.S. France selecting this for their International Feature submission at the Oscars was an avoidable mistake.