It should be apparent now that director Quentin Dupieux makes films for himself and if others wish to join him for the ride that is their affair, his latest Smoking Causes Coughing (Fumer fait tousser) which opens the FrightFest strand of the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival more structured than some of his previous works but still guided by whimsy rather than planned direction or destination.
Regarded by children who follow their adventures as “the coolest avengers in the world,” the high regard in which Tobacco Force are held by impressionable youth is not matched by adults, but still they press on, the combined powers of Benzène, Nicotine, Mercure, Ammoniaque and Méthanol defeating villains such as Tortusse by giving him explosive cancer, but Chief Didier has concerns, seeing growing division within the group even before the programmed suicide of their robotic assistant Norbert 500.
Ordered on a retreat to work on group cohesion to ensure they are ready to face the coming threat of Lézardin (Man Bites Dog‘s Benoît Poelvoorde), but with ostensible leader Benzène (Gilles Lellouche) refusing to relinquish his position of dominance even when Ammoniaque (Ammoniaque) says she feels dismissed, Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier) rejected by Didier (a drooling rat voiced by Alain Chabat) and the new Norbert 1200 failing to live up to expectation, Lézardin may as well declare victory.
Dupieux’s resume including Rubber, Mandibles, Deerskin and Incredible But True, his films are often rambling, possessed of undeniably interesting ideas but undisciplined in their execution, disconnected scenes fighting for attention, something at least partially addressed and ameliorated in Smoking Causes Coughing where the retreat takes the form of a series of interludes as the team tell campfire tales to shock each other.
With “thinking helmets” which isolate the wearer from outside distraction, pollutants dumped into rivers and workers dismembered by woodchippers and the woman inside the fridge refusing offers of company, the recurring theme seems to be that calm comes from sensory deprivation, that not having to deal with other people and the expectations of the masses is the key to happiness, something Dupieux’s continuing disinclination to adhere to the rules of conventional cinema would seem to confirm.
That said, modelled unapologetically on Samedi matin television shows of a certain era, most obviously Power Rangers, with a mid-seventies Glen A Larson visual style and a manic approach to narrative coupled with matter-of-fact absurdity, in a career based on quirkiness Smoking Causes Coughing is probably among Dupieux’s more accessible works, though with no faces familiar to those who are not aficionados of French cinema it is still unlikely to be more than a cult hit.
Smoking Causes Coughing will be released later this year by Picturehouse
The Glasgow Film Festival runs until Sunday 12th March