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The Cannes winner 'Titane' is an invigorating and difficult film

The somewhat surprising winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival was the French movie Titane, which translates to “titanium,” which is what the protagonist, Alexia, has a whole lot of in her head following a terrible car accident as a child. Alexia is now somewhere in her 20s and has a strong tendency toward murder. And, possibly because we fetishize our childhood horrors, she really, really… really likes cars.

Alexia ends up impersonating a missing person, and this leads to her altering her appearance, while at the same time undergoing some physical changes that are very much not under her control. Without giving anything more away, I’ll note that this movie is billed as being part of the “body horror” genre, and director Julia Ducournau is very concerned here with bodies: how we perceive our bodies, how we react to our assumptions about others’ bodies, how we try to force our bodies to be what they aren’t, how we try to stop our bodies from being what they shouldn’t be. This is already such a visceral subject, and Ducournau’s film has an undeniable electric charge—it’s simultaneously attractive and repulsive. I find it hard to imagine anyone watching this movie and not having actual physical reactions. Not because the images are necessarily so dreadful—although I did turn away from the screen at least four times—but because the incongruity between what we see with our eyes and what we know about what’s happening causes an intense internal friction.

But it’s not all about shock value. This also somehow leads to a deeply touching kind of love story—not a romance, but a story of love in the face of pain, and an acceptance that remains even when we drop our self-delusion. It’s a cliché to call a movie provocative, but here, it’s true: Titane is an invigorating, difficult film that will provoke you into a deep interrogation of what you think you know about your own feelings, and how you react on that primal, gut level.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.