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When Manu (Grégoire Ludig) and Jean-Gab (David Marsais) discover a housefly the size of a small footstool in the trunk of a car they just stole, they're surprised, but not for the reasons one might expect. They bluster around in dismay, saying, "Why is this in the back of the car? This screws up our plans! What do we do now?" What they don't do is ask the most obvious question: "How on earth did a fly get this big?" Manu and Jean-Gab take at face value the most extraordinary things, and get discombobulated by the everyday. They are not the brightest bulbs is the kindest way to put it. "Mandibles," the latest from French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux, takes as its premise an absurd situation and then treats it like a normal bump in the road. Manu and Jean-Gab's baffled yet incurious reaction to the fly is the first absurdity, and more and more follow in a farcical and ridiculous avalanche.
What works so well in "Mandibles" is how it's set up as a basic heist movie, using very familiar elements, so familiar they're almost tired cliches, before going completely off the rails into random demented territory. Dupieux likes to start with an outrageous situation, and then follow it wherever it takes him, anchoring it all in the familiar. Consider his film "Rubber" (2010) featuring a tire as a murderous sentient entity, or "Deerskin" (2019), where a man (Jean Dujardin) becomes unhealthily obsessed with his jacket made of deer skin. Dupieux doesn't develop these ideas so much as present them, reveling in the various possible outcomes of such a weird event. He seems to start with a question: "What would happen if ... ?" His films can seem like one-trick ponies, repeating the same joke over and over, but there's something refreshing and also humorous about Dupieux's outlook, a mish-mash of Dada and Eugène Ionesco and Franz Kafka, with some Salvador Dalí thrown in; he creates a space out of the banal and everyday where unexplainable things happen, where inanimate objects take on intelligence and agency, where two dumbbells see a giant fly and their first thought is: "She would make a perfect drone. We'll be rich!"— Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com
Tue November 29, 2022, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
Belgium, France; 2020; in French; 77 min, digital • official site
Director: Quentin Dupieux, Writer: Quentin Dupieux, Cast: Grégoire Ludig, David Marsais, Adèle Exarchopoulos, India Hair, Bruno Lochet