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Posts Tagged ‘David Marsais’

Death, entropy, and the speed of light: everything else is relative. I am aware this is a fairly philosophical note on which to open another entry on a theoretically amusing film review blog, but so it goes. I actually suspect it would amuse and satisfy the French hyphenate Quentin Dupieux (described by one critic as a ‘writer/director/composer/editor/cinematographer/auteur/weirdo’) to learn that one of his films sent my into a metaphysical spin quite so early on; he seems like that kind of person.

Dupieux, you may or may not recall, has previously shared with the world a couple of – for want of a better expression, and better expressions really are wanting in this case – horror pastiches: Rubber, the tale of a sentient telekinetic tyre on the rampage in the south-west USA, and Deerskin, in which a man possibly in the grip of a midlife crisis falls under the sway of a megalomaniac jacket. His 2020 film Mandibles is, by comparison, a much milder and gentler affair; it’s actually much more mainstream. Needless to say, if you compare it with virtually any other two films from the last few years, this is not the case: the film is still roaringly bonkers, it’s just that the tone of the thing is much more accessible.

Gregoire Ludig plays Manu, a dimwitted small-time crook for whom things are not going very successfully – as the film opens he is sleeping on the beach. It is a rather lovely beach in the south of France, to be sure, but even so. Nevertheless, things show signs of looking up a little bit when a more successful acquaintance offers him a job – couriering a box from one place to another, no questions asked (a bit like a cross between Frank Martin from The Transporter and Frank Gallagher from Shameless).

Manu takes the job and soon runs into his old friend Jean-Gab (David Marsais), who is equally morally-flexible and not appreciably brighter. However, things take an exceedingly odd turn when the car Manu steals to carry out his mission in turns out to have something in the boot (putting the goods in the boot is a stipulation of the job). This is not luggage, or junk, or a kidnapped daughter of a Chinese crime-boss, or anything else you might expect to find in the boot of a car in the south of France: it is a giant fly, which has somehow got itself wedged in there. When I say ‘giant’, I do not mean ‘unusually big for a fly’; I mean it is the size of a large dog. (The fly still turns out to be unfeasibly cute, somehow.)

Now you or I would probably run a mile or call someone properly equipped to deal with an insect of improbable size, but Manu and Jean-Gab display the genius of the somewhat thick by instantly recognising this as a money-spinning opportunity in a very effective disguise. They hit upon the plan of training the giant fly to steal things for them. This involves abandoning the job they have taken on and holing up somewhere; needless to say this does not go entirely to plan.

Now you may be thinking ‘Oh, no, not another film about two small-time crooks in the south of France trying to train a giant fly to nick stuff for them,’ and I understand why this might be the case. However, things take another unexpected turn when they run into Cecile (India Hair), a well-off woman who lives locally, who (completely erroneously) recognises Manu as Fred, her old boyfriend from school. She immediately invites the pair of them to stay at her house along with her and her friends. One of her friends is Agnes (Adele Exarchopoulos), who – due to brain damage received in a skiing accident – is normally incapable of speaking at any volume lower than a shout. With this lot all in the same villa together, what are the chances of something outrageous happening?

Very high, obviously. It’s all just as weird as it sounds – the tone is set by the complete lack of surprise the leading duo exhibit on seeing a fly the size of a bulldog – but the insect itself is somewhat less central to proceedings than you might expect: it’s a device to propel the plot along more than anything else. The uselessness of Jean-Gab and Manu are the source of much of the comedy (the actors are, I am given to understand, a successful comedy duo in France); the eccentricity of the various characters they run into only provide more opportunities for comic weirdness.

In the end, the meat of this film is basically a farce about a mistaken identity and two idiots trying to hide a giant fly from their hosts via increasingly unlikely means. All of the Dupieux movies that I’ve seen have been funny to some extent or other; this is much more straightforward as a comedy than them, and probably funnier as a result. It revels in just piling on the absurdities far beyond the point of credibility. There’s an extremely game, high-volume performance from Adele Exarchopoulos, whom I’d only previously seen in quite earnest dramas – it’s probably a bit iffy to do jokes about people with long-term cerebral injuries, but the character is handled relatively sympathetically and the actress, at least, does not appear to be attempting a caricature.

You might reasonably wonder what the hell all of this is in aid of – Rubber, after all, was to some extent about the deconstruction of genre conventions, while Deerskin concerned itself with the peculiar intricacies of the middle-aged male psyche. So what’s Mandibles about? Well, I’m not sure it’s actually about anything beyond assembling the most ridiculous plot it can manage – although I suppose it does have something to say about the value of friendship, for the bond between the two leads is palpable and endearing (thoughtless and amoral people though they are). It may also have something to say on the topic of inviting long-lost friends to stay as house-guests, especially when you haven’t actually seen them for decades. Whatever it’s about, if indeed it’s about anything at all, Mandibles is a good-looking and enjoyable film, though undoubtedly a very silly one.

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