Tag Archives: Quentin Dupieux

CAPSULE: MANDIBLES (2020)

Mandibules

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , David Marsais, Adèle Exarchopoulos

PLOT: Two dimwitted thugs think they’ve struck it rich when they find a giant fly in the trunk of their stolen car.

Still from Mandibles [Mandibules] (2020)

COMMENTS: The shaggy-fly comedy Mandibles showcases the more accessible side of Quentin Dupieux; it’s getting the widest American release of any of his film’s since Rubber (2010), and his best notices from mainstream viewers and reviewers. While 2018’s Keep an Eye Out was a nonstop assault of ian jokes and experiments, Mandibles (like 2019’s Deerskin) restricts itself to only a couple of deadpan absurdist premises (the giant fly being, naturally, the main one). It’s an olive branch for those who believe that, when it comes to weird, less is more.

Mandibles starts when Manu, homeless and sleeping on the beach and looking like a French version of the Dude, gets a hush-hush commission to deliver a mysterious suitcase, no questions asked, for 500 Euros. (As this is a Dupieux film, you can be sure the valise will not contain a kilo of heroin, stolen diamonds, or plans for an Iranian nuclear reactor.) Manu invites buddy Jean-Gab along on the low-key caper, but complications immediately arise when they find that the trunk of their stolen car houses an enormous fly. Jean-Gab, the marginally brighter of the two, hatches the idea to train the flying pest as an assistant for their criminal careers. The suitcase is temporarily forgotten as the two buffoonish thugs seek to enact their plan, overcoming small-scale obstacles (accidentally locked trunks, fires, car problems) as they try to avoid tripping over their own feet.  Manu’s efforts go to scrounging up food and lodging, while Jean-Gab spends his time training the fly he’s named Dominique. Through a crazy coincidence, their picaresque adventures eventually land them at a country villa where they meet a suspicious Adèle Exarchopoulos, who threatens to uncover their subterfuge—despite suffering from a novel neurological problem (the movie’s second big surreal joke).

It’s the friendship between Manu and Jean-Gab, rather than the fly’s antics, that carries the movie. These two dopes have a bit of a Bill and Ted dynamic (with their “toro” handshake subbing for the California dudes’ air guitar salutation). Their criminality is opportunistic rather than mean-spirited; in real-life, their poorly conceived scams would quickly land them in prison, but in the movie’s world they’re able to abduct people and steal property without serious repercussions. They never get anywhere; perpetual victims of their own stupidity, they have a tendency accidentally destroy all their ill-gotten gains. Their simplicity and unswerving loyalty to each other leads the audience to root for them despite their boorish behavior, however, and you even see how their insect companion could get attached to them. Meanwhile, their escapades provide just enough unpredictability and amusement to carry the slight narrative through its brisk 75-minute runtime.

Is Grégoire Ludig becoming Dupieux’s leading man of choice? He’s unrecognizable here from his turn in Keep an Eye Out, and he even shows up here briefly in a second role—again unrecognizable. He’s got a chameleonic presence and good comic timing, two things a Dupieux film can always use.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s not Dupieux’s best work, but there are enough laughs and head-shaking moments to make ‘Mandibles’ an entertaining jaunt into weirdosville.”–Carla Hay, Culture Mix (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: KEEP AN EYE OUT [AU POSTE!] (2018)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Grégoire Ludig, , Marc Fraize

PLOT: A detective interviews a man who has discovered a corpse under not-very-suspicious circumstances.

Still from Keep an Eye Out (Au Poste) (2021)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Quentin Dupieux’s effervescently surreal policier parody recalls vintage 70s cinema. And it’s actually pretty weird.

COMMENTS: The thing that strikes me about Keep an Eye Out is that it feels dashed off—effortlessly. It clocks in at just over an hour, it’s mostly dialogue-based, and it only features two major performers and only a handful of different sets. There are no special effects to speak of, and the most expensive and complicated scene is the opening, where a man is arrested for conducting a symphony orchestra in a field. The script is filled with digressions, but still feels tight. Ludig and Poelvoorde deliver absurd lines matter-of-factly, commenting on the hole in a detective’s torso or a man eating a whole oyster (shell and all) with nothing stronger than mild curiosity. They remain completely inside this world, never suggesting that they’re in on the joke. Everything seems to come easy to this movie.

This ease and emphasis on dialogue and subtly dreamlike situations puts me (and others) in mind of late (minus the social satire). There is a pleasing flow in the way the situation starts out offbeat, and keeps growing weirder and weirder. The interrogation of poor regular guy Fugain (Ludig, who only discovered the body and is obviously innocent of any crime) begins in medias res, with detective Buron (Poelvoorde) taking a break to schedule a social engagement over the phone while the hungry witness patiently waits to conclude the business so he can get dinner. Although the interrogation is odd, with Buron fixated on insignificant details and slowly typing up Fugain’s responses up in real time, things take a turn when the inspector asks his associate, a one-eyed policeman, to take over while he goes on (another) break. This leads to a  strange accident, which I won’t spoil except to say that it (potentially, at least) ups the movie’s stakes. Buron returns and the interrogation resumes, but we now see Fugain describing events in flashbacks—flashbacks which contain time paradoxes, because characters who could not have been on the scene show up and start interacting with his memories. Buron continues to be obstinately suspicious, while missing evidence of an actual crime that’s hiding in plain sight. But despite some suspense trappings, the script’s actually quite light and witty, and only loosely tethered to its police procedural structure.

Whereas Dupieux’s subsequent film, Deerskin (2019), is an examination of masculinity and an artistic self-reflection, Keep an Eye Out suggests no deeper themes beyond the desire to make you laugh. Rather than a symphony, the movie plays like a jazz solo, with Dupieux simply riffing on whatever crazy idea comes into his mind. The only off note comes at the very end, a reality shift that—once again—recalls Buñuel, but also suggests a writer admitting he has no way to end his story. Still, as a standalone bit, this “big reveal” actually works just fine. String together enough gags like that, and you could make a pretty entertaining movie out of it, actually.

Au Poste! was completed before Deerskin, but is being released in the U.S. a year later. Suddenly prolific director Dupieux already has two more in the pipeline: Mandibles (2020), a comedy about a giant fly, and the currently-in-production Incredible but True [Incroyable mais vrai].

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“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)

CAPSULE: DEERSKIN (2019)

Le Daim

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jean Dujardin, Adèle Haenel

PLOT: A middle-aged man becomes obsessed with his new deerskin jacket.

Still from Deerskin (2019)

COMMENTS: “Sorry, but isn’t your movie weird?” One suspects Quentin Dupieux lifted that line verbatim from his own life experiences for this screenplay. It’s one of many self-references in Deerskin, whose main character is a delusional fraud1 posing as an independent filmmaker while undergoing a midlife crisis.

Never fear, Deerskin—a movie about a man, a leather jacket, and the destructive pledge that binds the two together—is indeed a weird movie. But considering the manic maximalism of Dupieux’s last major outing—2014’s Reality, which seemed like it had about fifteen interweaving subplots in a dreams-inside-of-dreams structure—Deerskin is relatively restrained, focused on only two major characters and a single absurd conceit. In that sense, it’s almost a ian film. Indeed, aside from the odd opening (which will be explained later) and a scene of Jean Dujardin flushing his corduroy jacket down a public toilet, nothing beyond the moderately quirky occurs in the film’s first fifteen minutes. Dujardin’s character is clearly not all there, and occasional horror movie violin strikes suggest looming disaster, but it’s not until his deerskin jacket starts talking back to him that Dupieux leans into the scenario’s inherent eccentricity. The idea that we see the film from Dujardin’s insane perspective “explains” his strange activities for the rest of the movie, and perhaps makes it more palatable for general audiences not accustomed to the dream-logic universes Dupieux typically creates.

Dupieux likely slows down the craziness in order to take advantage of Dujardin’s presence. The stately actor is Deerskin‘s biggest asset, and the movie is almost Dupieux’s take on a character study. We suspect that the idea of an abstract, arty study of a man in the midst of an existential crisis is what attracted the French star to the project. Ruggedly handsome, if growing a bit paunchy, with a distinguished touch of grey in his beard, Dujardin creates a character who is deeply insecure and ridiculous—because he’s both vain and a bit dim. Unmoored and wandering, fleeing a relationship for reasons unstated, Dujardin gives his withered self-confidence a coat of luster with the deerskin jacket, which he believes gives him a “killer style” that everyone envies and talks about. But, in his mind, it’s not enough that he own the world’s coolest jacket—wouldn’t it be better if he owned the world’s only jacket?

The jacket concurs.

I don’t know if Deerskin‘s subdued style really fits Dupieux’s talents. He’s always been an over-the-top auteur with a unique voice, and his lack of restraint in focusing his ideas has always been a key part of that voice. I can’t say that maturity and self-reflection fits him any better than Dujardin’s too-tight jacket fits his character. Although Deerskin may be a bit easier for the neophyte to buy into than Dupieux’s previous larks, I’d still recommend the novice start off by jumping into the deep end with the slasher spoof Rubber, where the director sets out his bold manifesto of “no reason.” You can circle back to Deerskin later and see if you think the director is aging gracefully, or if he needs a truly wild midlife crisis of his own to remind him of his youth.

Deerskin is a victim of 2020’s pandemic, unable to receive even the usual limited release in theaters. Distributor Greenwich Entertainment is releasing it online and sharing half the revenue with the local theaters who would usually screen it; you can find a list of participating institutions at this link. The movie hits home video in late June.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“‘Deerskin’ is funny, weird and original; it features two charismatic stars, and it does everything it needs to do in only 77 minutes.”–Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle (contemporaneous)

220. REALITY (2014)

Réalité

“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”–Philip K. Dick

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Kyla Kenedy, Jon Heder, Jonathan Lambert, Élodie Bouchez, , John Glover

PLOT: A young girl (improbably named “Reality”) spies a videotape inside the entrails of a wild hog her father shoots. Meanwhile, Jason, a French-speaking novice director, gets the green light for a screenplay he is working on about killer television sets, but only if he can find an Oscar-caliber scream of pain to insert in the film. Jason’s producer is also funding a fiction film from a former documentary director who, coincidentally, is using Reality as his lead actress, while the stressed would-be filmmaker finds he is having nightmares that are increasingly difficult to wake from.

Still from Reality (2014)
BACKGROUND:

  • Réalité, Quentin Duepieux’s fifth film, was a French/Belgian co-production. The story is set in southern California, although many of the characters primarily speak French.
  • Although Duepieux usually scores his own films, the only music in this film is a repeated phrase from Philip Glass’s “Music with Changing Parts.”
  • The male Award Presenter in Jason’s dream is Michel Hazanavicius, Academy Award-winning director of The Artist (the female Presenter is Rubber‘s ).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Jason’s recurring dream where he is at an awards ceremony, awaiting announcement of the award for best groan in movie cinema history. He’s the lone human in a sea of blank-faced mannequins in tuxes.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Viscera video; eczema on the inside; this film doesn’t exist yet

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: In his short five film career, Quentin Dupieux has established a distinctive—and divisive—comic vision. His absurd sense of humor takes killer tires, dog-turd detectives, and electronica-snob cops and tosses them into twisted, self-aware scenarios. Reality sees him take a darker turn, venturing deeper into his subconscious, foraging for nightmares.


U.S. theatrical trailer for Reality

COMMENTS: In Reality, a mother reads a bedtime story to her Continue reading 220. REALITY (2014)

READER RECOMMENDATION: STEAK (2007)

Reader recommendation by Caleb Moss

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Ramzy Bedia, Johnathan Lambert

PLOT: After he is released from being institutionalized in a mental ward facility for seven years because he was accidentally framed for the murders committed by his high school friend Georges, Blaise is flung into a strange, incongruous near-future where 1950’s kitsch a la “Happy Days” and extreme body modification mingle together swimmingly.

Still from Steak (2007)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Quentin Dupieux, as readers of this website are fully aware, has a young, idiosyncratic film career replete with odd meta-humor and other peculiarities. This sadly maligned debut feature is no different: it distinguishes itself through its mixture of ageless plastic surgery disasters, masochistic cricket bat gang rituals, wryly absurd dialogue, and very warped buddy comedy dynamic.

COMMENTS: Blaise is a very unfortunate, albeit slightly dimwitted, individual to be friends with the likes of Georges, who is by all accounts a superficial opportunist who carelessly places Blaise into predicaments that cause his mind to slowly unravel until he becomes a disfigured shadow of the loser Georges once was. If the previous description makes it sound as if Quentin Dupieux created something along the lines of a heart-wrenching melodrama, then fret not: this film is incredibly funny, sporting strange conversational oodles which skewer humor trends, clique culture, and even a few self-referential jabs at Quentin’s own career as an electronic musician. Also noteworthy is what may be some of the finest use of shallow focus framing in Quentin’s output, quietly transforming the bandage-wrapped, post-op profile of Georges into something distorted and rather unnerving.

This film features some of Quentin’s most ambitious sound production as well, pulling together fellow French electro collaborators Sebastian Tellier and SebastiAn on board to produce a consistently eccentric and addictive soundtrack which fades and swells in and out of the film’s oddity-rife tapestry.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In many ways Steak is a much weirder film than Rubber.”–Rich Haridy, Rich on Film (DVD)

 

CAPSULE: WRONG COPS (2013)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Mark Burnham, , Arden Myrin, , , Marilyn Manson

PLOT: Los Angeles cops sell weed (hidden in dead rats), harass aerobics dancers, blackmail each other, and compose electronica; anything but fight crime.

Still from Wrong Cops (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With a few exceptions (like a fatally wounded music aficionado who refuses to kick the bucket), this black comedy is missing the unique conceptual meta-humor of Quentin Dupieux’s first two movies. It plays more like mildly edgy sketch comedy—it’s almost mainstream.

COMMENTS: One strange lesson you’ll take out of Wrong Cops is that American peace officers love European-style techno music. The other lesson is that, although Quentin Dupieux does surreal comedy well, his general outlook is too bemusedly sunny (a la genial absurdists like ) to create a truly biting satire about policemen behaving badly. True nastiness doesn’t seem to be in Dupieux’s makeup, so Wrong Cops ends up being more like Bad Grandpa than Bad Lieutenant. Although the movie’s cops are intended to be morally corrupt, only Mark Burnham‘s Officer Duke comes off as totally depraved; Eric Wareheim’s breast-obsessed patrolman, for example, is far too teddy-bearish to disturb, even when he’s forcing women to disrobe at gunpoint. The desire to make a black comedy about cops behaving badly mixes poorly with this director’s basic lack of cynicism. (The unexpected sweetness of Dolph’s search for his missing dog in Wrong was a better fit for his sensibilities.) The not-quite-dead body that is never disposed of is one dark moment that works, as is Officer Duke’s spontaneous, pot-fueled eulogy about Hell on Earth that closes the film, but in general the somewhat flat comedy routines are more mild than wild.

With five cops to follow (plus a pair of gay officers who show up occasionally but don’t have a plotline of their own), there’s a lot going on, and Dupieux makes the movie into something of a L.A. block party by inviting a number of recognizable bit players. Eric Roberts stops by as a movie director, and is in there for a few minutes, while her “Twin Peaks” hubby has a slightly larger role as a police chief presiding at a funeral. Marilyn Manson (out of makeup) plays a hassled teenager; despite the fact that he’s in his forties, he is actually surprisingly convincing as a misfit kid. Unobtrusive but obvious references to Rubber and Wrong are also placed in the movie for Dupieux fans. The sprawling cast adds to the sketch-comedy feel, although the overarching plot (which is partly told out of sequence) is more carefully constructed than most viewers give it credit for: if Officer Duke never harasses David Delores Frank about his taste in electronica, the movie’s big tragedy never occurs. Dupieux’s core fan base will probably be pleased with this entry—and it does have its weirdly funny moments—but personally, I’m getting diminishing returns on his unique sense of humor with each subsequent film. The abstract meta-comedy that seemed rule-rewriting in Rubber has become expected and merely entertaining by the time we reach Wrong Cops.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…tonally weird and totally forgettable.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle