This review does not include major spoilers for Titane, but if you’re already planning on seeing it, I recommend knowing as little as possible.
Flesh is just another binary.
Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning Titane starts as a simple film. Alexia (played by newcomer Agathe Rousselle) is a dancer who grinds on cars as men gawk. She is a portrait of alt femininity and she’s desired by people of all genders. One such admirer followers her to her car and she kills him in gleeful self-defense. Another is a fellow dancer — they have a nipple ring related meet cute and start hooking up. A simple film about being a woman.
The first thirty minutes satirize the male gaze and set up a lesbian love story. They present an antihero who gives creepy men what they deserve and who finds connection beyond her cold father and the other offerings of his gender. And, sure, that includes literally fucking a Cadillac.
But the beginning is a trick. A suggestion that gender is simple and can be shown in simple terms. That women are objectified and men are predators. That women have to fight back and work together and fuck each other or at least a car. But gender is not simple. We are all objectified. We are all predators. And yeah it’s hot when a woman sucks on another woman’s nipple ring but it’s not going to save the world.
And so Titane explodes its own premise. Alexia’s violence becomes unjustifiable and then she switches her gender. It’s out of desperation and not. She becomes a man and not.
This is not a trans film but it is a film about gender and isn’t that the same thing? We say we want to destroy binaries — well here is a film that does just that. Male and female. Straight and gay. Trans and cis. Truth and lies. Flesh and metal.
Masculinity is shown to be toxic. It’s also shown to be beautiful and complicated and tender. A father can be distant and abusive. A father can be physical and loving. Goodness is just another binary that does not exist. Nothing and nobody is good. But we see masculinity in all it has to offer — femininity only as a trap.
Julia Ducournau can be described in many ways. I would say she’s a visionary. After just two films, she’s established a unique, carnal voice — a visual style and grasp on sound design and score that’s akin to getting murdered at a night club. Raw is a perfect film. Titane is better than a perfect film.
Julia Ducournau can be described in many ways and that includes cis. She has said her “vision of the world is queer” but she’s never identified her gender or sexuality with any labels. And she doesn’t have to. I will champion artists who claim their queerness and transness loudly and publicly. But I will also champion this enigmatic French woman when her art speaks so clearly for itself.
Titane is not a film that can be solved. Its allegories are sensory. Its themes only felt. And, for me, I felt something very true. About masculinity, about femininity, about bodies and violence and pain and connection. About queerness. About transness. About life.
Being trans is body horror, because being a person is body horror. Trans people are not artificial. All people are artificial. We cut protein filaments off our scalp and this changes who we are. That’s just as strange as fucking a Cadillac.
Titane is now playing in theatres.