Mandibles (2021)

Swampflix’s collective pick for the best movie of 2020 was an absurdist horror comedy about a killer deerskin jacket.  Deerskin felt like a career high for notorious French prankster Quentin Dupieux, especially in its sharp self-satirical humor about the macho narcissism of filmmaking as an artform.  The follow-up to that violently silly triumph finds Dupieux backsliding into his more typical comedies about Nothing.  Dupieux’s calling-card feature Rubber—the one about the killer, telekinetic car tire—announced him as an absurdist whose humor was rooted in the total absence of reason or purpose, one of the cruelest jokes of life.  Mandibles fits snugly in that “no reason” comedy paradigm, the exact thing Dupieux is known to excel at.  It’s only a disappointment in that Deerskin felt like a turn signal for a new direction in his career.  On its own terms, it’s a total hoot.

In Mandibles, two bumbling criminals adopt & corrupt a gigantic housefly so it can join them in acts of petty theft.  That’s it.  The entire film is about two dumb buds being dumb buds who now have a weird pet.  One is a beach bum; the other works eventless shifts at his parents’ highway gas station.  The unexpected discovery of the housefly seems like a free ticket out of the lifelong buddies’ lifelong rut, but the resulting journey essentially amounts to a couple sleepovers & pool parties.  They’re two overgrown man-children who inevitably fuck up everything they touch, recalling the adorable doofuses of mainstream Farrelly Brothers comedies of yesteryear.  That retro humor is underlined in the film’s 1990s set design & costuming, which includes an overload of pink denim, cassette tapes, and Lisa Frank unicorn imagery.  The only stray element that elevates the film above its Dumb and Dumberest surface charms is Dominique – their adopted mutant fly.

Quentin Dupieux totally gets away with reverting to autopilot for this “no reason” comedy, solely on the virtue of its jokes being very funny.  I laughed a lot, I was surprised by every new get-rich-goofily scheme, and it was all over in less than 80 minutes.  It’s hard to complain about that.  It’s also hard to dismiss the novelty that Dominique brings to screen, rendered in a combination of CGI & traditional puppetry.  I can’t claim I’ve never seen anything like her before, at least not after the giant flea vignette in 2016’s Tale of Tales.  Still, every inane buzzing sound & insectoid head tilt Dominique delivers as the unlikely straight-man in the central comedy trio earns its laughs.  I’d like to see a post-Deerskin Dupieux evolve into a more purposeful satirist with pointed things to say about life and art.  His career-guiding thesis that life and art are ultimately meaningless rings true no matter how many times he repeats it, though, and this time he flavors that repetition with a cool-looking creature.  That’s enough for me.

-Brandon Ledet

Deerskin (2020)

I remember being affectionately amused by Quentin Dupieux’s meta-philosophical horror comedy Rubber when I reviewed it a few years back, but I wouldn’t fault anyone who wasn’t. There’s a “How goofy is this?” Sharknado quality to the film—an ironic B-movie about a sentient, killer car tire—that I could see being a turn-off for a lot of audiences, even horror nerds. At any rate, Dupieux’s latest work is much more straight-faced in its commitment to its own gimmick, with no winking-at-the-camera fourth wall breaks to temper the Absurdism of its premise. Even speaking as a defender of Rubber, it’s all the better for it (and now I’m doubly curious about all Dupieux’s films that I’ve missed in-between).

Deerskin stars Jean Dujardin as an unremarkable middle-aged man who purchases a vintage deerskin jacket. The jacket transforms him from an unfashionable divorcee on the verge of a Mid-Life Crisis into a self-proclaimed fashionista with “killer style.” The jacket itself is tacky & doesn’t quite fit his Dad Bod correctly, but it absolutely changes his life with a much-needed confidence boost. Only, this newfound confidence quickly snowballs into an absurdist extreme. Whenever alone, he converses with the jacket. Anytime he encounters a mirror, he stops to admire himself in it. He lovingly films the jacket with a digital camcorder, convinced its greatness must be documented. Then, deluded that no one else in the world should have the privilege to wear any other jacket (as his is obviously the superior garment), he begins indiscriminately killing jacketed strangers in its honor.

The most obvious way that Deerskin succeeds as an absurdist comedy is that it’s damn funny from start to end. Not only is the idea of a jacket being so fashionably mesmerizing that it leads to a life of crime hilarious even in the abstract, but the overqualified Dujardin’s straight-faced commitment to the bit sells each gag with full inane delight. Portrait of a Lady on Fire‘s Adèle Haenel is equally overqualified as the Oscar winner’s costar, aiding in his crimes as an amateur film nerd who edits his jacket-themed home movies into coherent Cinema. The pair’s unlikely chemistry as an amateur filmmaking duo is hilarious in its deadpan seriousness, a sincerity that nicely counters the ironic distancing of Rubber. Anytime you slip into not taking the titular jacket’s “killer style” seriously, a vicious flash of violence or selfish cruelty re-anchors the story in a real place. Its seriousness sneaks up on you.

In Rubber, the killer car tire’s crime spree is explained as a philosophical exercise in an Absence of Reason – absurdity for absurdity’s sake. Deerskin is just as silly on its face as that over-the-top splatter comedy, except that it has a clear, genuine satirical target: Masculine Vanity. The entire film plays as a hilarious joke at the expense of macho narcissism, especially of the Divorcee in Midlife Crisis variety. Not to miss an opportunity for meta-commentary, Dupieux uses this platform to satirize his own vanity for making an entire feature film about a killer jacket in the first place. Even if you’re not a fan of his work in general or if—for some reason—the premise of this macho mutation of In Fabric doesn’t entice you, maybe that willingness to self-eviscerate will be enough bridge the gap.

-Brandon Ledet

Rubber (2011)




“This is the first time in my life I’ve identified with a tire.”

In the late 90s & early 00s Quentin Dupieux was making electronica records & puppet-starring music videos under the moniker Mr. Oizo. He’s since developed the visual end (the much more interesting dynamic to me) of that project into a career as a full-blown filmmaker. I’ve yet to see any of Dupieux’s other works, but it’s very easy to see Mr Oizo’s (and his puppet surrogate Flat Eric’s felt-covered) fingerprints all over his most widely known film to date, Rubber. Rubber is, in essence, a work of puppetry. A horror comedy about a sentient, killer car tire with psychokinetic abilities, Rubber is puppetry in its most basic sense: it brings an inanimate object to life & supplies it with a personality. Rubber‘s car tire protagonist/antagonist might not be easily recognizable as a traditional puppet, but it’s easy to see an A-B connection between the irreverent puppetry of the film & Dupieux’s past work as Mr. Oizo/Flat Eric. Local mainstay Miss Pussycat might be a more logical path of lineage for Mr. Oizo, but Dupieux has certainly not left those puppet-centric music video roots in his past.

A full-length feature film about a killer car tire might sound a little narratively thin to wholly succeed, but Rubber sidesteps that concern by adding a second plot line concerning meta audience participation to its formula. Rubber is not only an unnecessarily gritty/gory version of the classic short film The Red Balloon; its also a tongue-in-cheek indictment of the audience who would want to see such a gratuitous triviality in the first place. A car tire comes to life & immediately learns to kill after it figures out how to roll on its own treads. After crushing bugs & trash under its light weight, the tire moves onto telekinetically exploding human heads like that one .gif from Cronenberg’s Scanners continuously playing on loop. The only thing that could stop this depraved nonsense is if the meta audience surrogate, a mysterious group of binoculars-equipped onlookers, would just simply stop paying attention. Rubber’s central message seems to be very much in line with that of the Treehouse of Horror segment “Attack of the Fifty Foot Eyesores“. If we don’t want to see any more films this inane, cruel, and unnecessary, we need to stop paying them attention.

Of course, I do enjoy watching things this inane & gratuitous, which is largely what Dupieux is depending on. My favorite parts of the film are the moments when the tire is doing things even more unnecessary than rolling on its own volition or exploding heads with its “mind”: it sleeps, it drinks, it watches television, it peeps in on girls in the shower, it stares in abject horror at a mass grave/tire fire, etc. It takes a certain appreciation of for-its-own-sake-absurdity and/or impossibly dumb horror schlock to enjoy the film for what it is, but Rubber does come off as eager to amuse once you get on its wavelength. The smartest thing Dupieux does with Rubber is to open the film with a fourth wall-breaking mission statement that ponders “In Steven Spielberg’s E.T. why is the alien brown? No reason […] In Oliver Stone’s JFK, why is the president suddenly assassinated by some stranger? No reason,” and goes on to declare “All great films, without exception, contain an important element of ‘no reason’. And you know what? It’s because life is filled with ‘no reason’. The film you are about to see today is an homage to ‘no reason’, the most powerful element of style.” If you’re amused & not violently rolling your eyes at the sentiment of that quote, chances are you’ll have a similar to reaction to Rubber as a whole. All else abandon ship.

Even with all of Rubber‘s stray meta-philosophical tendencies (which are never taken too seriously), Dupieux sticks to a strict doctrine of ‘no reason’. There’s no entertainment value or general purpose to this film about a killer car tire other than the perverse pleasure of watching a film about a killer car tire. It’s the kind of the same joy you could pull from watching a yellow felt puppet file paper work, drive a car, or shill for Levi’s jeans to a groovy beat. It doesn’t need a reason beyond its own very existence.

-Brandon Ledet