Titane Julia Ducournau (2021; Fr. Bel.) Agathe Rouselle, Vincent Lindon
viewed Tyneside Cinema 6 Jan 2022; ticket £10.75
what’s in a name?
The female protagonist of Julia Ducournau’s ‘Titane’ is called Alexia, an appellation surely too close to Apple’s own ‘Alexa’ to be accidental? As I watched the opening sequences of the movie it occurred to me that perhaps ‘Titane’ was Ducournau’s reposte to Apple’s ‘Alexa’, a symbolic assault on the Apple corporation’s conquest of human kind and its de-corporalisation of life death sex and friendship. Apple’s ‘Alexa’ the one without a body, parodied by Ducournau’s ‘Alexia’ who is all body; ‘Alexa’ she of the ingratiating soothing voice our little helper, metaphorically turned inside out in the form of ‘Alexia’ who is of the flesh and kills gratuitously, fucks mechines and spawns hybrid life forms. ‘Alexia’ who turns mute the nemesis of ‘Alexa’ who is voice. But of course this is just my own projection onto Ducurnau’s movie; my take on the creative impulse that might have engendered ‘Titane’ as an idea. But whatever it’s primal concept, ‘Titane’ feels like a idea betrayed. In the end it derails into just another lost meandering scenario, tapers into an act of directorial self indulgence.
It is evident from the start of the movie that Ducournau has taken J D Ballard as an inspiration. ‘Titane’ opens with thee sequences, all of them comprising imagery of Ballardian obsessions : the first a montage of big close shots of an car engine; the second the car crash which results in young Alexia having a titanium plate in her skull; and the third, a spectacular motor show swollen with many of Ballard’s familiar tropes and fetishes, relating automobiles and desire. So we know that Ducournau is starting from a particular point and through Alexia is exploring certain type of territory.
J D Ballard in a series of novels, most noticeably ‘The Atrocity Machine’ and ‘Crash’ took aim at the psychic incubation of polymorphic desire by the automobile industry. From the detritus of consumerist dreams and nightmares Ballard carved out a roster of disturbed characters pursuing transgressive gratification through the automobile: personalised violent death, strange sexually heightened wounds, obsessive re-staging or replaying of car bourn death. Ballard’s writing focuses on the aberrant fall out from the glossy advertising and sales pitches of the big car companies. His stories document how their associative imagery penetrates our states of minds and leaches into our unconscious. Ballard chronicles with relentless intent how ‘the mechanical bride’ became the hand maiden to mass sociopathy and self destruction.
Ballard is of course not about plot but about mind as reactive consciousness. And that’s surely a situation we find ourselves into today in a world intrapenetrated with disembodied personalities? We need to strip away the blandishments and re-assurances of the tech behemoths. We need to penetrate through the digital interfaces and understand what lies under the surface of the products we have been sold: murder and mayhem perhaps? New Notes from the Underground.
Films such as Faraldo’s ‘Themroc’ and Ferreri’s ‘Le Grande Bouffe’. Both these directors peruse their respective targets – the pressures of social convention and western addiction to consumption – with a concentrated unwavering logic. Both these films start as propositions to be developed. From the outset they adopt an extreme premise and use the medium of film to work through implications and consequences to the bitter end. Both films climax in the ecstasy of reaching an ultimate conclusion and closure arrived at entirely on their own terms. There is no compromise no way out; in Themroc and La Grande Bouffe, the human agents embrace in totality the mechanics of the psychic forces they have set in motion.
‘Titane’ at the outset seemed as if it might belong to that category of film which take their form and content from exploring an extreme motif. In the first section it seemed as if Ducournau might have decided to follow the singular path determined by the closed logic of being ‘anti- Alexa’, of being a severe allergic re-action to everything ‘Alexa’ represents.
But in the second half of ‘Titane’, Alexia progresses from being a serial killer (with a penchant for dispatching victims by plunging her long hairpin through their ears into their brains) into some sort of multiple Jack of all trades. Titane finds she is pregnant after having sex with her car (the gearstick?). Perused for her numerous murders, she goes on the run and adopts a false ID of a disappeared boy. At this point Ducurnau’s script seems to spin out of control. Ducournau doesn’t have either the wit or the visceral ability to craft her material into a singular form, a particular statement. Alexia isn’t a character in any meaningful sense of the term; she is a vehicle for an idea, for a concept. It is apparent that Ducournau simply either loses faith in the idea or never understood her idea in the first place.
Her movie breaks into a number of strands, each of which has a different theme. Like many contemporary directors she tries to make her film all things to all men, appeasing different demographics: for the horror aficionados there’s an epic gyno-goth pregnancy with full-on gross eruptive physicality; Alexia as girl turned boy become trainee fire-fighter, a strand for the feminist; the theme of redemptive acceptance for the excluded. In final desperation Ducournau resorts to full-on driving dance pop video sequences. These have nothing to do with the thematic content of Titane, they are simply fashionable digressions that have nothing to do with the film that has already lost the plot.
‘Titane’ feels like a lost opportunity. It may be my wishful thinking, but it feels like there is an idea at the core of this script, that is is grounded in the name ‘Alexia’, and what this name represents. Titane is the French for the element Titanium which is a key structural component in the manufacture of computers and of course titanium dioxide is the pigment used in the characteristic white look of Apple products.
At the end of the movie it felt like Ducournau had set off on a journey to a distant terrifying land, got nervous and turned back to explore her local suburbs.