OPINION: “Titanium” is a radical, determined film and an addition to the horror genre | Culture
“Titanium” by director Julia Ducournau, who won the award for best French film in the Palme d’Or, arrived in America with enthusiasm, but failed to find a home in the United States with many Panoramic reviews of the film as another shocking film that drifted across the Atlantic Ocean, bathed in gratuitousness and pretension.
There are good reasons not to like Ducournau’s film. “Titanium” isn’t for everyone, and the film’s body horror – though relatively sparse – isn’t for the faint of heart.
But even for people who love horror and shocking it, this movie probably wouldn’t appeal either. Ducournau’s second film release isn’t a good Halloween movie either, an unfortunate fact given how close its theatrical release is to the holidays.
Rather, it’s a deeply meaningful film, devoid of the gratuity that some critics have hinted at. “Titanium” can be brutal and extreme, but it never revel in its morbidity or carry the posh, articulate trajectories and aesthetics typical of shock practitioners.
When the trailer came out, many compared the cinematography to that of Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, known for his austere use of color and his stylized, lush portrayal of violence.
Ducournau’s film has some of the peculiar colors of the Giallo lore, a particular horror movement in Italian cinema of the late 20th century, but the violence portrayed could not have been further from the language of Argento. The cinematography of “Titanium” is messy and rough, the camera slows down when it needs to, but otherwise uncomfortably close and claustrophobic.
The relative standard for extreme cinematic lore – whether it’s New French Extremity in Europe or porn torture in America – can tend to be pretty straightforward. The shocks are there, but they are expected and more for the audience than for the film. “Titanium”, by comparison, is a crude film and a difficult project.
Body horror is a much maligned subgenre, especially after the series “Saw” and other pornographic entries of this type. However, if one can accept the intellectual potential of such a genre, “Titanium” is in the foreground, shouting loud and clear the need for such a cinema in its depth of thought and purpose.
The plot of Ducournau’s film is best left mostly unexplained. Her first five minutes or so go like this: A young girl named Alexia is forced to undergo surgery where a metal plate is implanted in her head following a car accident. From there, she developed an obsession with cars, an obsession that came full circle many years later when she immersed herself in her Cadillac. The film follows her terminating an unnatural pregnancy.
Agathe Rousselle embodies Alexia and delivers a performance that is both deeply empathetic but also surprisingly funny. The other main character in the film, Vincent, is a firefighter father whose son has been kidnapped. Vincent is played by Vincent Lindon, a rather veteran French actor.
Lindon’s portrayal of the character is also fantastic in its depth, and the film wouldn’t work without the special vulnerability of his performance.
There isn’t an explanation of Ducournau’s film that reveals it in full context, but there are some readings that the film covers and fights more than others.
“Titanium” is a movie obsessed with reproduction, for its part, but not necessarily in the classic sense that horror works through this subject matter, as in “Rosemary’s Baby”, for example.
A reading of Ducournau’s film attacks the binary of genres. It is a film about the separate reproduction of femininity. In doing so, it is also about the tenuous relationship between femininity, its socialization and construction, and reproduction as a mechanized process separate from this socialization.
Another tradition used by this film is body horror – in particular, classic David Cronenberg body horror – and Cronenberg’s work tended to be a sort of technological horror. The Cronenbergian metamorphosis is one of the main thrusts of the film. This is of course a reduction, but functional. Body horror is always the realization that the body is nothing more than a machine and Titanium focuses on this as one of its axes.
Ducournau, just as she opened New French Extremity to a discursive female subject in “Raw”, now opens up Cronenbergian terror to the female subject in “Titane”.
This is one of the ways in which the film operates. From there he comments on many different theoretical, literary, and political traditions, but to dwell on one in particular is to ignore the achievement of “Titanium.” It is a horror of femininity as experienced by female subjects, a perspective that tends to be overlooked.
“Titanium” doesn’t require a strong stomach, although a very weak stomach will likely prevent someone from enjoying the movie, but it does require an open mind. It’s a tangled film, the process of making sense of it is a careful effort, but that’s where it peaks.