This year's Palme d'Or winner and official Best International Film submission from France, Titane (same title in France) which is directed and written by Julia Ducournau in her sophomore feature outing, can certainly make you grab your theatre seat just a little tighter as you might be sweating litres of motor oil but it does have more to it than just magic tricks. In her first film role, Agathe Rousselle plays Alexia who's a showgirl with a titanium plate in her head due to an accident that we see in the film's first scene. She also becomes or already is a serial killer and after one deadly and sweaty night, she begins to transform physically, so to speak. After getting linked to the murders, she assumes the identity of a long missing boy called Adrian which leads her to live with his father, fire captain Vincent (Vincent Lindon) while trying to conceal her transformation.
Ignoring that opening scene which isn't at the same level as the rest, there's an instant gut feeling that you're in the hands of a director who knows exactly what they want you to see and experience, whether that's the slick one-shot following Alexia to her job with great camera movement led by DOP Ruben Impens and immense amount of extras, or the ensuing body horror that the movie draws from along with domestic drama elements. Ducournau's control in adapting the script visually is exhilarating throughout and there's no lack of themes to ponder either; gender identity and fluidity, redirecting one's unused love towards someone who needs it, familial connections and exploration of your body image are all valid, no matter what you're drawn to personally.
Titane's ideas about gender fluidity and body image can also be felt through the fantastic makeup work, headlined by prosthetics specifically. Obviously your usual horror aspects are the most noticeable in that regard as there's a lot of blood and splatter to accentuate the murders and bodily harm but the scars of Alexia's surgery and the physical transformation also use them as an effect in ways that make you itch and move. One thing that undermines the prosthetics and scenes showing Alexia/Adrian in close-ups, mediums and wides is the costume design which doesn't compliment them at all and feels too contemporary for such film, creating a lingering disbelief that never really leaves those scenes.
To Ducournau's credit however, she isn't only showing off here but the acting is outstanding across the board as well. Lindon carries the weight emotionally in the second half in an exceptional manner and with him, there wasn't a moment that felt overly sentimental but still made you care about the characters. Rousselle, on the other hand, barely has any lines but she and Ducournau clearly struck a chord when it comes to reactions, looks and looking away that you don't think about it during the film. Themes presented and the two actors working well by themselves and together is why Titane rises above good to become great, it doesn't rely simply on bodies to make you feel something.
Smileys: Directing, Vincent Lindon, Agathe Rousselle, makeup
Frowneys: Some issues with costume design
Sexth gear is really where it's at.