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A Bug's Life

Magnet Releasing

Mandibles (2021)

When Quentin Dupieux pitches a film, the producers get what they were promised. “Mandibles,” as the people who paid for it were no doubt happy to find, really is about two amiable French layabouts who discover a genuine giant red-eyed fly the size of a 10-year-old child in the trunk of a stolen car and who immediately consider training it to go and fetch things from the shops, rather than asking why the fabric of reality has sustained major damage. But reality is always a bit threadbare in Mr. Dupieux's tales, with their bleached daylight and vivid nonsense. His last film, “Deerskin,” steered the director's absurdist style into a darker lane, as a psychotic Jean Dujardin discovered his life's purpose in basic narcissism. The two guileless goons in “Mandibles” don't have a narcissistic thought in their heads, or indeed much else. They’re a blithe underclass, abandoned by the materialist world before and after something amazing happens. They're dumb and dumbeur.

Manu and Jean-Gab (Grégoire Ludig and David Marsais, parading the rapport of the established comedy duo they are) discover the very big fly while attempting to take a very small suitcase from A to B, a simple task with endless complications. The largest wrinkle occupies the second half of the film, in which they hook up with a group of passing young people and then have to try and keep the fly concealed. One of this group, Cécile (India Hair), believes Manu to be an old school friend, although since he plainly is not perhaps there aren't many brain cells firing here either. Another one turns out to be a de-glammed Adèle Exarchopoulos as Agnès, a character who shouts every line of dialogue as if trying to be heard over a jet engine. There is an in-story explanation, but really the spectacle of this actor bellowing at 90 decibels is justification enough.

The film is distinctly more cruel to Agnès than anyone else, possibly because she's the one whose prior bad luck has left her bitter about fate's unfairness, when the film clearly thinks you should embrace whatever low blows the world throws at you – easier for art to say than to actually do perhaps. Mr. Dupieux’s deadpan Dada style stuffs things together that are supposed to be a universe apart, just to show that the normal borders mean nothing and that the result might make whatever was there before look false. “Isn't life wonderful?” muses a character, deep in a blissful misapprehension and not in any hurry to be rid of it. Yes it is, answers the film, even when the wonder is buzzing and has wandered in from an old episode of “Doctor Who.”


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