Manu and Jean-Gab

Mandibles (Mandibules in the original French) is a film by Quentin Dupieux, the guy who in 1999 gave the world Flat Eric, a nodding glove puppet with deadly comic timing originally designed to sell Levi’s Sta-Prest clothing.

Aspects of the manic, affectless, idiot-savant spirit of Eric (if you don’t know him, here’s an example) can often be seen in Dupieux’s characters. Dupieux’s people are usually Flat in some way. There’s often something not-quite-there about the storyline too, and Dupieux has an unusual way of framing his shots – deliberately slightly too high, or too low, always just a bit off somehow.

All fully evident here. Manu (Grégoire Ludig), a bum who sleeps on the beach, is approached to do a simple pick-up and drop-off job. €500 to do it. No questions asked. Just don’t open the suitcase. Hold on to that plotline as an example of how Dupieux works, since it’s almost instantly forgotten, swapped out for another plot driver – a gigantic fly in the boot of the car that Manu, now accompanied by his similarly dim friend, Jean-Gab (David Marsais), has stolen to carry out the (forgotten) job.

New plotlines arrive. A trailer where Jean-Gab starts the training of Dominique (as he’s named the fly) – hoping she might be a golden ticket to a fortune. A trio of young women who mistake Manu for a guy one of them went to school with and so invite the luckless pair to stay at their holiday home.

It’s like Dumb and Dumber or a Bill and Ted movie – Manu and Jean-Gab share the French equivalent of “awesome”, “most excellent” dialogue and have a secret blood-brother handshake – except with no actual quest-style throughline. Incident piles on incident. Things happen, sometimes for no reason. One of the young women is called Agnès, and for no reason whatsover she has a condition which causes her to shout the entire time. She’s played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, who extracts big laughs not from Agnès’s condition, but from her character, a strange mix of naivety and aggression.

The fly drinks from a pool
Escaped! The giant fly

There is no plot, no plan. Manu and Jean-Gab are a pair with a severe deficit of forethought, a recurring trait in Dupieux’s characters, blundering from one situation to another.

Not unsurprisingly, the film works best in stabs. At one point Manu introduces a tiny dog to the villa and brings it into the room where Jean-Gab is hiding the giant fly. We’ve seen the fly eating cat food and other meaty treats. It wouldn’t eat a dog, would it?

At another the police arrive and one of the cops turns out to be the real Fred, Cécile’s long lost friend from high school – with thigh tattoo to prove it.

Earlier, while attempting to cook lunch, Manu sets fire to the trailer he and Jean-Gab had lucked upon, this scene relying for its comic effect on how quickly a fire will rip through an old trailer out in a very dry landscape. Dupieux holds the shot as the flames gather force while Manu – cooking utensils still in hand – looks on with Jean-Gab as their temporary home goes woof.

Special mention has to go to whoever built the fly, a puppet operated by a human, apparently, and modelled on the sort of creatures you’d find in a 1950s monster sci-fi movie.

Absurdist, situationist, chaotic, Mandibles is fun but the lack of a plot means it’s straining to make it even to its 77 minute finish line. Dupieux promises he’s going to do something different in the future so perhaps this will be the last of this sort of banzai comedy we’ll see from him. Though there has also been talk of a sequel to Mandibles, provisionally titled Tentacles.

Small detail, as Dupieux pointed out in an interview, flies don’t have mandibles.

Mandibles – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2022


Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel

Deerskin is a film about the film-making process, or a film about a man in the grip of a massive self-delusion, or one about the making of a serial killer, take your pick. It’s a comedy and it made me laugh several times, often simply because it is Jean Dujardin as the man at the centre of it all, an actor with funny bones – at his Oscar acceptance speech for The Artist, he name-checked both Laurence Olivier and Benny Hill.

Here’s a bare-bones plot – man buys an elaborately fringed deerskin jacket and finds himself so taken with how he looks in it that it changes his character. He starts “acting” like someone he’s not.

To put a bit more flesh on that, he’s paid €7,500 for the jacket. It’s a touch too small for his middle-aged body. He’s obviously also just broken up with his wife, and she responds to the withdrawal of the cash from their joint account by instantly blocking it, leaving Georges (Dujardin) high and dry in the small Pyrenean town he’s decided to stay in for a month. But at least Georges has a camera, which the seller of the jacket (Albert Delpy, father of Julie) threw in as part of the sale as an afterthought, perhaps because he was overjoyed at having made so much money out of something he was never going to wear again. Or maybe in an attempt to get this obvious weirdo out of his house.

And so, believing that the jacket is somehow communicating with him – it is “Made in Italy” so knows a thing or two about life and style, he reckons – Georges starts to pass himself off as a director, a fantasy he’s soon been joined in by local bartender Denise (Adèle Haenel), who has, she confides to Georges, always wanted to be an editor.

The rest of the film is Georges’s midlife misadventures with the jacket, whose voice he ventriloquises, in much the way Danny in The Shining would squawk “Red Rum” to himself. Though he knows nothing at all about film-making, Georges is convinced that the “killer style” conferred on him by the jacket is a passport to whatever he wants. He’s invincible. And dangerous, but that comes later. For now the important this is to acquire more deerskin – hat, gloves, trousers. And it’s surely no accident that almost everything around Georges, clothes, decors, furniture, seems to be deerskin-coloured too.

Georges admires himself
Georges admiring himself

Yes, it’s a bit of an odd one, but then the last film I saw by writer/director Quentin Dupieux, Rubber, was about a tyre in the desert which suddenly became sentient. It was fabulously odd and it really was about a car tyre bouncing about having adventures, while also making the point that you can make an interesting film with nothing at all as long as you have imagination.

In effect Dujardin is playing Dupieux himself – a man with a movie camera, plus limitless imagination (plus jacket) equals a film director, no matter how technically backward the man with the camera is.

Rubber eventually started to morph into a horror film, having started out more like a Lassie story of a dumb thing proving it wasn’t so dumb, and Deerskin does the same, as the jacket’s monomaniac ambition to be the only jacket in the world starts to exert itself and Georges starts going to extreme lengths to help the jacket fulfil its fantasy.

As a study of psychopathy it’s as good as a lot of ostensibly more serious films – Georges’s weird behaviour makes total sense to Georges – as a shorthand for the film-making process it’s also a neat pencil sketch.

Adèle Haenel as the bartender/accomplice/editor, recently seen in Portrait of a Woman on Fire and often in serious roles, never cracks a smile as Denise. She plays it straight to Dujardin’s deadpan, which is more Buster Keaton than Benny Hill, though Georges himself probably believes he’s Jean-Paul Belmondo (whose mannerisms Dujardin is possibly aping when he’s preening).

At 75 minutes, this is a short film, but it does what it wants to do, economically and stylishly, and it’s as funny as it is bizarre. No more need be said.

Deerskin – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021