Review: Quentin Dupieux's REALITY, Not Just Another Headscratcher
French DJ-cum-filmmaker Quentin Dupieux, aka Mr.Oizo, invaded the cinema landscape rather abruptly through his Dadaistic effort Rubber, following a killing tire in a twisted slasher formula.
The comic element aside, Dupieux knew what he was up to since the first minute, not only in the opening scene of Rubber, featuring its unforgettable manifesto "No Reason," but also in his films to come. (He had previously tried his hand at filmmaking in the unfinished Nonfilm and the adequately bizarre comedy Steak.)
Rubber marked a new chapter in the filmmaker´s career building his own topsy-turvy world. Wrong demonstrated his potential, not only through the absolutely ridiculous story of a dog-obsessed protagonist but mostly through the stylistic and formal solutions that blended into Dupieux´s personally-bred brand of poetics. The expansion of his oddball universe continued in the utterly anarchistic Wrong Cops, celebrating subversion.
His latest endeavour, ironically titled Reality, is the most mature film by the director to date. Dupieux has been working on Reality on and off since Rubber, constantly tweaking the script until achieving its final version, a labour quite visible on the perfectly seamless juncture of realities in the film, despite the director´s heavy use of dream logic. He himself aparently considers Reality to be an achievement enveloping Steak, Rubber and Wrong, all of which he keeps referencing in his own self-contained phantasmagoria.
A ghost-zoom underlined by Philip Glass' eerie composition Music with Changing Parts forms a rabbit hole binding various layers of Dupieux's "reality", firstly in the opening scene, then on various occasions throughout the movie, luring viewers deeper into a chronospatial labyrinth. The director already experimented with slow digital zoom in Steak (while practising fast abrupt zooming in Wrong Cops) and found for it a perfect fit in his latest outing.
The protagonist Jason (favoured French comic Alain Chaban) works as a cameraman on a cooking show where the host, Dennis (Jon Heder of Napoleon Dynamite), constantly wears a rat suit. Even though no reason rules over the many strange appearances and happenings, animals have a particular place in Dupieux´s world, such as the dog in Wrong or the deer and rats in Wrong Cops. The shooting of the show must be postponed as Dennis keeps aggressively scratching himself for an invisible eczema.
Later, after he has taken his spot hosting the show, a doctor explains to him that the eczema is on the inside of his head. This little anecdote bears little to no relevance to the central storyline, if we might call those the two most visible narrative strands. Jason leaves the studio for his meeting with a producer to propose a horror movie, Waves, about bloodthirsty TV sets exterminating humankind, Rubber-style. The awkward pitching session ends when the only condition is given: Jason must come up with a superb, agonizing groan in the next 48 hours, the groan that will win an Oscar. After that moment, Jason starts sinking into a hallucinogenic downward spiral of screams and delusions.
The second storyline revolves around the eponymous Reality (Kyle Kenedy), a curious 8-year old girl witnessing a VHS tape -- not the only anachronism in the film -- fall out of a boar´s viscera while her father is eviscerating it. An obvious reference to David Cronenberg's cult hit Videodrome, the incident draws Reality into obsessive behaviour to find out what secret the tape holds.
Dupieux blends an ongoing sketch among the so-called storylines, with Dennis obsessing over his freak-eczema, and Eric Wareheim flowing through in a jeep as a cut-out of M.A.S.H., in woman's clothing for no reason. Jason crosses paths with an enigmatic documentarian named Zog (John Glover) who is shooting an opus magnum. Meanwhile, Jason's wife (Élodie Bouchez), a psychotherapist, treats the cross-dressing Wareheim. Stories and anecdotes bounce off each other and intersect themselves in a most curious and seamless fashion, as the line between reality and dream is completely annihilated.
Quentin Dupieux has dragged a cult director label behind him since Rubber, a film that springboarded him into wider recognition. Due to the reluctance of a producer, Steak did not hit the international circuit after flopping in France.
However, that absurd, minimalistic retro-futuristic comedy was the reason Olivier Père artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival, pointed his wise, prophetic finger towards Dupieux, proclaiming him one of the best emerging film directors.
Furthermore, the director's penchant for Americana might be tracked back to his debut. Reality was shot in Los Angeles, and the Californian genius loci forms an integral part of the film's aesthetics, as well as the glossy cinematography already displayed in Wrong and Wrong Cops. The French iconoclastic filmmaker has been already included among a batch of influential directors. Somewhat obvious comparisons have been made to David Lynch, and the more articulate have compared him to the Spanish maestro Luis Buñuel. Reality verges on both; nonetheless, Dupieux worked out his own poetics, operating outside the borders of conventional film narration, and, most of all, not taking himself seriously.
It wouldn't do sufficient justice to consider the Frenchman's oeuvre merely as a rollicking head-scratcher piling on the absurd. Alex Koehne starts his review of Wrong Cops, "It's difficult to review Wrong Cops in a traditional sense, because it is so nontraditional in every way..." Indeed, the traditional sense backs up to the unconventional as far as the norms of conventions outstretch. Dupieux tears down the restrictive walls to rebuild the norms into new code and he is doing it in his own cinematic universe.
Nonfilm, his unfinished debut, carries a great title for the concept and endeavour Dupieux has been manifesting by pushing and twisting the boundaries. Ceaseless intertextual and metatextual interplays help extend the efforts for Dupieux´s non-film canon, embracing aspects beyond the particular film itself. In one of the first scenes of Wrong Cops, a film that bears stylistic resonance to the 70s, an aesthetic preserved so far, on Stark of the That '70s Show fame emerges over a dead body and the entire film is a spin-off of a micro-episode set in Wrong.
Eric Wareheim returning to La La Dupieuxesque Land after Wrong Cops is even more fitting, as his and Tim Heidecker's feature film Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie grinds the exact same rail of absurdness, non-film concept, and subversion. (Ray Wise hikes from Twin Peaks forests through Billion Dollar Movie and Wrong Cops). Besides, Dupieux knows how to invoke magical scenes, such as the memorable driving to nowhere sequence in Wrong, a pulchritudinous visual axiom of existentialism.
Reality lacks the subversion, although the concept of non-film is even more palpable due to the anarchistic takeover of time and space continuity. The latest outing is so far the most sophisticated film Dupieux has done yet, although it still belongs to the same Dupieux cabinet of curiosities. This makes him even more interesting, since he himself acknowledges Reality as a sort of peak. The curiosity arises as to which route he will take next.
More cultivated than Wrong Cops, and dramaturgically smoother than Wrong, Reality still brims in the abundance of its zaniness. Previous endeavours by the contemporary filmmaking incarnation of Salvador Dalí culminates in this epitome of kooky, modern-day Buñuelean offering.
Review originally published during the International Film Festival of Rotterdam in January 2015. The film opens on Friday, May 1, exclusively at the IFC Center in New York. It will also be available on demand and digital (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, and XBOX) platforms.
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