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DIRECTED BY: Quentin Dupieux
FEATURING:, , Anaïs Demoustier
PLOT: Having discovered a dead body under not-very suspicious circumstances, Louis is brought in by the police for questioning. His account of the event arouses the suspicions of police commissioner Buron, but Louis is even more suspicious of the police because of their circular arguments, penchant for distraction, and curious behavior. Louis becomes concerned that he will bear the responsibility for an increasing number of unlucky events, and must recount his actions in fine detail in an effort to affirm his innocence.
- This was native Frenchman Dupieux’s first feature actually produced in his home country.
- The film’s original French title translates as “To the police station!” It can also be translated to mean “at the office.” It can also be interpreted to mean someone who is at their assigned spot (“at one’s post”), in much the way a call of “Places!” summons the actors to their marks at the start of a play.
- Scenes at the police station were filmed in the headquarters of the French Communist Party, designed by acclaimed architect Oscar Niemeyer.
- Alain Chabat is credited with providing “screams of pain.” Chabat appeared in Reality as a film director attempting to win an Oscar for the best wail of pain.
- The film’s poster parodies that of the significantly more action-oriented Jean-Paul Belmondo crime thriller Peur sur la Ville (Fear over the City).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Philippe, a hapless cop-wannabe, suffers from an unfortunate condition, and its reveal is a genuine shock. It’s not merely that he has only one eye. It’s that the whole upper quadrant of his face is smoothed over, as though the mere idea of an eye socket never existed. And once he begins espousing his hyper-preparedness for even the most surreal of accidents, it is absolutely inevitable that Chekhov’s Plastic Angle Square will fulfill its destiny.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Near nude conductor; crunchy oyster
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:by way of with a healthy layer of Douglas Adams and a final punch of Sartre, Keep an Eye Out is a fantasia of absurdism. Dupieux and his actors seem to be engaged in a contest to see who can be the most deadpan, and the tone never wavers, neither in the face of escalating ridiculousness nor an unexpected and tragic conclusion.
Original trailer for Au Poste!
COMMENTS: We begin with an orchestra in a meadow, accompanying the opening credits under the baton of a mustachioed man clad only in a red Speedo. After a few minutes, the police arrive to apprehend the unclothed conductor and chase him further into the woods. Neither he nor the orchestra will be seen again. So… was the whole thing irrelevant? Of course, it was. Or was it? For the rest of the film, seemingly unrelated events take place, meaningless distractions will intervene, and the shaggiest of dogs will repeatedly be summoned. Are they irrelevant, too? Of course, they are. Or are they?
I’ve already used the word “absurd” in this review, and I’m going to keep on using it because absurdity is the primary tool in Quentin Dupieux’s toolbox. Characters are physically ridiculous, from Philippe’s eye to the sleepwalking of Louis’ wife to the fact that Buron exhales cigarette smoke through a hole in his chest. Their behavior is highly odd, from the ever-watchful neighbor to the repeated ending of sentences with “actually” to the extremely casual way in which Buron’s son recounts an attempt to end his own life. (The cop seems equally nonplussed.) And specific actions stand out as notably curious, such as Louis’ consumption of a leftover oyster, shell and all. Logic be damned, drawn, and quartered, at every turn. Dupieux’s got a fever, and the only prescription is more absurdism.
But stealthily, the film begins to morph into something more serious, more considered, as Louis carefully and deliberately walks through each of his seven nighttime journeys outside his apartment. As he attempts to fend off the detective’s skepticism, characters from the present make their way into Louis’ memories. They confront him directly about his actions and protest his selfishness. His memories themselves betray him; no clock can provide him with a corroborating time, and he starts to lose his patience. The world around him may be pure chaos, but there’s nothing as unstable as a memory.
Keep An Eye Out makes its final transformation into surrealism at what seems to be the climax of the third act. (What follows are spoilers of the most egregious kind.) Just when it seems that fate has finally dealt Louis an escape from his torment, the walls fly up to reveal an audience of delighted playgoers, before whom all of the film’s characters take a proud bow. Louis is understandably baffled, and the traditional post-show celebration at a local bar does nothing to clarify matters, even with Philippe’s triumphant return from the dead. But just as Louis is trying to find his place in the new reality, the carpet is yanked out from under him once more, as Buron summons the gendarmes to arrest him and haul him back to the station for more questioning, a cycle that will presumably itself in perpetuity, like a particular episode of The Twilight Zone.
This is mostly played for laughs, and that’s fine. In fact, some critics have described Keep an Eye Out as minor Dupieux, a flight of comic fancy that doesn’t compare with other works in his catalog. But there’s a haunting quality to this short feature that gives it real power. Whether Louis is an innocent caught in a web of lunacy or a criminal being served up cosmic justice, whether he is a cog in a comic machine or the target of its relentless hunger for laughs, there is something ultimately tragic about his inability to ever get his bearings and the probably eternal nature of his plight. Like a nearly nude man facing an orchestra, you can try to fit in as best you can, but it won’t matter when they finally come for you.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“None of this absurdity is laugh-out-loud funny (it’s not meant to be), and the odd beats of dialogue blend in with the script’s procedural nature and occasional asides… It’s about stretching, and normalizing, the way things can be strange, whether it’s a strange action by a character (as when Fugain crunches into an oyster like a hamburger slider) or a strange development regarding how one scene’s reality is the next scene’s hallucination… It is still incredibly admirable how Dupieux commits to his absurdity, actualizing obsessive and reality-shifting ideas by treating them as splattered paint, and not, like with many other directors, as meticulous blueprints.” – Nick Allen, RogerEbert.com (contemporaneous)
“Many of these poker-faced absurdities are quite funny, and a few are so inspired that Dupieux might have done better to run with one of them, rather than serving up a smorgasbord of disconnected weirdness… This filmmaker’s madness could use just a little more method.”–Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club (contemporaneous)
KEEP AN EYE OUT – Dekanalog – The American distributor’s page includes a synopsis, trailer, a few critical quotes, and places to purchase
IMDB LINK: Keep an Eye Out (2018)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Keep an Eye Out (Film) – TV Tropes lists some of the familiar jokes and references found in the movie
Keep An Eye Out Quiz – Which Character Are You? – This 30-question (!) personality quiz proposes to match you up with the absurdist comic creation that’s right for you. (I got Buron, the detective.)
Keep An Eye Out Critiques Our Social and TV Habits – Armond White’s review posits that the film is a direct response to the rhythms and limitations of current TV programming, and that the French title references the intense ordinariness of The Office TV series.
APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: KEEP AN EYE OUT [AU POSTE!] (2018) – Gregory J. Smalley’s original Apocrypha Candidate review
HOME VIDEO INFO:
Dekanalog’s Blu-ray (buy) includes a rare commentary from Dupieux, along with behind-the-scenes rehearsal and make-up footage, the trailer, and a booklet.