Quentin Dupieux creates worlds or, perhaps even more intriguingly, a world where anything can happen. A tire might become a serial killer, as in Rubber (2010). People might commune with pets and attend offices where it’s constantly raining indoors, as in Wrong (2012). A fringed jacket may drive someone mad and try to take over the world as in Deerskin (2019). But at the heart of all these bizarre, some might say unfilmable, premises is a simple message or kernel of an idea that, unlike their outward appearance, is fairly uncontroversial.
Dupieux’s new film, Incredible But True is about, among other things, wish fulfillment. It’s about the simple idea that the things we want most can hurt and cost us tremendously. That’s an idea that’s been explored as long as film and narrative have existed, but never, to my knowledge, in a film about time portals and electric penises.
Alain (Alain Chabat) and Marie (Léa Drucker), a fairly unassuming suburban couple, have found the home of their dreams. It’s bright, more than large enough for the childless pair, and has a tunnel in the basement which propels you forward 12 hours in time, but also de-ages you by three days. Alain seems more-or-less unaffected by the latter, as he is in most of Dupieux’s film, and basically ignores the phenomenon. Marie, on the other hand, quickly becomes obsessed with the tunnel and begins to spend more and more time in it, in an effort to defeat the ravages of time once and for all. The disparity between Alain and Marie’s reactions to the tunnel ultimately drive a wedge between them.
Since this is a Dupieux film, which never has but one through-line, there’s a parallel story about Alain’s boss Gerard (Benoît Magimel), the very picture of toxic masculinity and mediocrity, and his brand new electric penis. There’s probably a bigger statement about a penis that can be ‘steered’ that’s constantly malfunctioning and bursting into flame, but I’m choosing to absorb this as an unsubtle way to incorporate a series of exploding dick gags into a surprisingly tender story about a couple drifting apart. Maybe on a second viewing I’ll explore it some more.
Dupieux’s movies have always had a unique visual flare, or series of them, that aren’t as present in Incredible But True due to pandemic restrictions. The relatively austere setups perhaps unwittingly mimic the anonymity and sameness found in both the film’s narrative and unfortunately, the world around us these days. So too does the score, by Jon Santo and comprised mostly of interpretations of Bach, feel both spartan and thoughtful in a way that evokes pandemic life, but also the strained relationship between our protagonists.
It’s not that Dupieux is becoming softer or more – and forgive me for using this term – mature, and that’s a relief. What’s happening here is that even bringing absurdity into a pandemic story 0 or at least one that feels like a pandemic story without being one – isn’t enough anymore. We’re used to absurdity, so even time travel and a fountain of youth doesn’t hit quite like it used to, prior to ~our unprecedented times~.
I like to imagine Dupieux watching Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, seeing the sort of surreal nightmare that dwelled in the basement of that palatial house, and muttering to the screen, “hold my beer.” Incredible But True is not as precisely crafted as all that, at least partially owing to the fact that this pandemic-shot film simply couldn’t enjoy the big set pieces or the other boons of Parasite’s production. It’s also not as ambitious a statement about society as a whole, but for Dupieux, whose films tend to read as an assault on seriousness, there’s a depth and emotion here that feels like growth from his prior work. Exploding genitalia aside, of course.
Quentin Dupieux’s Incredible But True is playing the 2022 Fantasia Festival. Find more details here.