Titane proceeds from the heights of absurdity and continues to climb. The revelation, perhaps twenty minutes in, that its main character, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), has become pregnant after having sex with a car prompted the first walk-outs in the screening I saw. For those who are down to ride, this film does not disappoint, but only exhilarates and confounds.
We meet Alexia as a disaffected young girl and soon she is a disaffected young woman. It is tempting to say the intervening car wreck might have had some effect on her character, but in fact she seems to have already hated her father and loved the combustion engine. Now she has a plate of titane in her skull, which makes for a cool title.
It gives almost nothing away to say that Alexia is also a serial killer, a passion she indulges in between dancing gigs at car shows. After a particularly productive night of senseless murder, she goes on the lam, disguising herself (sort of) as the aged simulation of a missing person and turning herself over to Vincent (Vincent Lindon), who accepts her gladly as his long-lost son, Adrien. It is in their tender, tentative relationship that this film finds its sense of purpose: a man who needs a son and a woman who needs a lot of things, a father possibly among them.
“What poor, twisted folly have you gotten yourself into?” someone asks, seeing Alexia for who she is, which is to say, unrecognizable to herself. Director Julia Ducournau—who previously introduced cannibalism to the coming-of-age college narrative with Raw (2016)—should be commended for pulling this one off without once resorting to naturalism. Instead, her characters, and the film itself, are instinctually bound to oppose good sense and sound storytelling. The possibility of real kinship among desperate and broken people is tested, not for believability or even drama, but for rate of acceleration.
That's a car thing, right? Anyway, Ducournau's not too concerned with the specifics, just needs something that will get her from A to B. Even Alexia's motormania mostly subsides after conception. Actually, Titane is a dance film. Vincent spins and spars with Alexia/Adrien to the sounds of The Zombies. A little later, a bunch of glistening, bare-chested firemen fist-bump to Future Islands. CPR is administered to the beat of the "Macarena." The showstopper is Alexia, as Adrien, performing a showgirl routine atop a fire engine, her breasts and belly bound with surgical tape under her clothes.