Six times. No, I think it was seven. Or maybe even eight.
I guess I lost count of how many times I wanted to turn away from the screen while watching the bizarre and thrilling and provocative and unnerving “Titane,” a symphony of disturbing and dark madness unlike anything you’ve ever seen — and I mean that in a good way, but you might have a little trouble sleeping after this one.
Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or as the outstanding film at the Cannes Film Festival, “Titane” is a triumph of hallucinogenic, gender-switching, erotic and violent horror from writer-director Julia Ducournau. At times it reminded me of David Cronenberg’s psychological thriller “Crash” from 1996 and the Scarlett Johansson-starring “Under the Skin” (2013), but this is a wholly original story brimming with creativity and a uniquely weird viewpoint. I mean, when was the last time you saw a movie about a serial killer with a plate in her head who has sexual relations with automobiles and passes herself off as a man even though she’s pregnant?
I rest my case, but let’s go back to the beginning.
In a prologue sequence setting the oddball tone for what’s to come, an adolescent girl is in the back seat of car, fidgeting and fussing and making sounds like a revving engine, irritating and distracting her father to the point where he crashes the car, and the girl needs to have a titanium plate implanted into the side of her skull. When the girl is released from the hospital, the first thing she does is zip over to the car to embrace it.
Flash forward two decades, and the girl has grown up to be Alexia (Agathe Rousselle in an unforgettably searing performance), who wears her hair in a way that exposes that titanium plate and works as an exotic dancer who performs on the hoods of muscle cars as panting men take pictures with their smart phones and mob her for autographs after the performance. Just don’t touch her or make a move. One persistent fan tries that, and let’s just say we won’t see him for the rest of the movie.
With cinematographer Ruben Impens delivering gorgeous and haunting, neon-saturated, wet-pavement-noir imagery, “Titane” follows Alexia as she emerges dripping from a shower, climbs into a pimped-out Cadillac, and has sex. By herself. Or with the car. Or something. All we know is, she gets pregnant, and we’re thinking whatever emerges from Alexia’s womb might be so otherworldly not even Rosemary’s Baby would want to have a play date.
Fueled by anger and distrust and simmering with intensity, Alexia embarks on a killing spree, highlighted by a scene reminiscent of the massacre in the luxury house in “Us.” Then things get REALLY strange when Alexia shaves her head, bruises her own face, binds her breasts and assumes the identity of a young man named Adrien who has been missing since he was a boy. Vincent Lindon is a revelation as Vincent, a macho firefighter who convinces himself this is really his son, even though anyone who isn’t delusional and perhaps even deranged could see otherwise.
What transpires after that is best left for the viewer to discover. Suffice to say “Titane” gets increasingly weird, dark and unsettling, as writer-director Ducournau explores the drastic measures some will take in an effort to find companionship and comfort.