If you've ever seen one of Quentin Dupieux's movies — perhaps Rubber, a horror flick about a murderous tire (and a crowd of people who can't stop watching it), or Nonfilm, about an actor and film crew who try persevere in the production of a movie despite an onset massacre (and a lack of cameras or script) — then you know the director has a penchant for the bizarre.
Dupieux, aFrench filmmaker, recording artist, and DJ, appreciates the "absurd," expressing a more genuine relatability in movies that don't exactly seem like they make sense. His latest, Wrong, fits the bill pretty closely: an oddball falls into emotional disarray after his dog is kidnapped, triggering an impulsive pizza parlor employee to engage in romance with his gardener, and his neighbor Mike to leave town in lieu of admitting to anyone the horribly embarrassing truth that he likes to jog. You're probably cocking your eyebrows right about now... and trust us, the movie is just as strange, albeit highly entertaining and interesting, as it sounds.
As far as Dupieux is concerned, absurdity is real. He considers the structured, neat world of mainstream cinema, on the other hand, is far less relatable. "I think movies can be a little more like life, basically," Dupieux says, expressing his own drive to make films he feels emulate the absurdist poetry of the real world. "Movies are like movies. Even when a movie pretends to be a small story about real life, it is not like real life. It is like the movies. Even when you recognize yourself in a character, it’s just a projection. It is not like real life. It is made like a movie, it is written like a movie, and that’s why we like movies."
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Dupieux wants to channel the sort of disarray he feels in his day to day for the screen: "I think life is more complex than movies. Life is really, if you look closer, life is really absurd, in a way. And when you watch a movie, usually everything makes sense. At the end, everything makes sense, everything is connected. And that’s not like life. Every day, I notice absurd stuff in real life. So, that’s what I’m trying to do."
And how does he go about this? While Dupieux feels that most screenwriters adhere to a certain formula, he trusts his gut. "I’m trying to write with my instincts. It’s like an exercise. It’s like a different job, in a way. It’s more like an organic process. I only trust my feelings, I only trust my instincts. I’m not even using my brain." Dupieux contrasts this with what he believes the norm to be in the industry: "Basically, what I do hate about mainstream movies is that they are all based on the same structure. Even if you compare a comedy to a science-fiction movie, it is the same structure. It is based on the same writing science, if you know what I mean."
Because of this independence from the mainstream writing science, Dupieux jokes that he is "a bad writer," saying, "I don’t know anything about the rules, and I’m not interested in learning the science of scriptwriting. So many people are doing it, we don’t need another screenwriter — or what they call a screenwriter. I’m not interested in being another ‘good writer.’"
Dupiuex veers from the norm primarily because he doesn't feel a lot of movies produce a lasting effect on audiences. "I’m not impressed [with the mainstream]. Only because I usually forget instantly — like, during the end credits, I already forgot about the movie ... I don’t like the idea of watching a movie, and then you go back home and you forget about the movie."
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But the director does have some affinity for Hollywood blockbusters and network television: "Don’t get me wrong," he says, "I like the mainstream world. I think it’s important for the people to be entertained. You don’t need to get more when you watch, I don’t know, a James Bond movie. It’s fun to watch. It’s entertaining. And by entertaining, you completely forget about your life and your personal problems for 90 minutes. It’s like a ride." Dupieux adds, "I can watch stupid TV series just because they are well shot and they give you something you need, in a way ... I like to be entertained, that’s for sure." Ultimately, Dupieux's goal is to entertain his audiences as well, but "without using the same language."
On top of this, Dupieux seems to admire how much of a stronghold most big films have on their viewers' emotional reactions. "When I’m watching a big movie, I don’t understand how they manage to control the audience. I’m always impressed to see a big mainstream movie, or even a TV series. They know how to control what you are supposed to feel. And I don’t know how to do that." The director has mixed feelings on the subject: "To me, it’s almost scary. I’m not interested in doing this. I’m more interested in opening new spaces. I’m looking for some secret places.
Dupieux thinks there is something inherently valuable in the sort of form his films take: "I know it sounds weird. My movies are absurd. You can watch and think, ‘Nothing makes sense.’ But it’s much closer to the complexity of the human being," the filmmaker says. "Usually in the movie, you have the good guy and the bad guy. This doesn’t exist. I don’t know a good guy that is just a good guy. This doesn’t exist at all. Same for bad guys."
He continues on this theme: "It’s not a translation that’s supposed to make sense on the screen. It’s more like the real thing." In terms of Wrong specifically does Dupieux highlight this sensibility: "This guy, who can’t admit he loves jogging… at first, yes, it sounds like a stupid joke, or something you’ve never seen in real life. But actually, it is like real life."
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On top of reality, Dupieux is also interested in one specific manifestation of the fantastical: dreams. "This weird world that we call dreams is something that I’m really interested in," he says. "The way you connect stuff in your dreams. When you’re dreaming, you always make weird connections between things. Sometimes, you have a character — it’s someone you know, and then in the next scene of your dream, the character is someone else. This type of thing that doesn’t make any sense when you wake up, that’s something I really enjoy as a dreamer."
And what about his other artistic ventures? While Dupieux seems to be able to express his thoughts on writing and filmmaking quite well, there is one realm that the multihyphenate doesn't exactly know how to discuss: music. "Music is only based on animal feelings," Dupieux says, struggling to define a formula or science behind the art. "It’s hard to describe why a piece of music is better than another one. You can’t really talk about music. It’s really hard. There’s no word to describe why Michael Jackson is better than everybody. You can’t really put some words on music."
Clearly, the man's appreciation for "going with your gut" extends across the board. Dupieux's imagination runs wild in his films, with Wrong topping the lot as a strange and tangential, but wholly fun and entertaining film. Wrong is now in select theaters and is available on VOD.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
[Photo Credit: Drafthouse Films]
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This year's Sundance Film Festival has only just kicked into gear, and has already launched some of the more interesting, and some of the strangest, prospects for the future of film. The Park City celebration of cinema has hosted several trailers for upcoming projects, with the trifecta of edgy subject matter: topics range from BDSM pornography (sex), to inebriated law enforcement officers (drugs), to the musical majesty that is Muscle Shoals (rock and roll). Check out a small collection of some of the trailers Sundance has yet to debut!
Notable creative forces: James Franco (producer)
Premise: This documentary explores the lives and work of the men and women who run the BDSM fetish website kink.com, pulling back the curtain on a subculture that, even in the pornography industry, is considered taboo.
Notable creative forces: Quentin Dupieux (writer/director); Marilyn Manson, Eric Wareheim, Grace Zabriskie, Ray Wise (actors)
Premise: The offbeat filmmaker behind oddball features like Rubber, Nonfilm, and Wrong delivers a story about a gang of incompetent, amoral police officers who aim to cover up an accidental shooting.
Notable creative forces: Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bono, Alicia Keys, Steve Winwood, Jimmy Cliff, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Gregg Allman (featured subjects)
Premise: A celebration of Muscle Shoals, Ala., from where record producer Rick Hall's FAME studio launched new waves of music as well as countless artists throughout the 20th century.
[Photo Credit: RabbitBandini Productions]
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With its 2010 iteration, Fantastic Fest can now claim the title of Largest Genre Film Festival in the U.S. What does genre exactly mean, though? Basically, it's an oddball amalgamation of horror, fantasy, martial arts, obscure dramas, sci-fi, thrillers, experimental films -- you name it; if it's something that's not likely to be up the alley of most mainstream moviegoers, chances are good that it's right up Fantastic Fest's alley.
That's not to imply that the movies that play FF are weird and inaccessible; they're just not what you're going to find in an 18-screen megaplex on a Friday night. And that's why I love the fest. So here's a look at what's playing at the fest that anyone reading a weekly column on sci-fi films is going to want to put on their radar.
Few films playing this year's FF are as heavily stylized as Bunraku, a frenetic genre mashup that takes place in a distant future where guns have been banned and swords are once again the weapon of choice. It stars Josh Hartnett as a wandering stranger (think of him as a gunslinger without the gun), Japanese pop star GACKT as a samurai on a mission and Woody Harrelson as the bartender who unites the two in their common goal of killing the local warlord, Nicola (Ron Perlman). Standing in their way is Nicola's army of finely dressed killers, led by the always great Kevin McKidd.
Unfortunately for most, Bunraku is a little too stylized. Director Guy Moshe designed the film with a very specific artistic goal in mind, which sadly narrows the scope of a work that should feel much bigger. The camera can't simply pan across town; it must zoom through it like a pop-up book. Elevators don't go up and down; they move like the chambers of a revolver, and no scene can have too little color. A legion of camera tricks and groovy visual touches like those are bound to appeal to a very appreciative set of moviegoers (most likely under the age of 20), but for most, Moshe's film is perhaps a little too cool for its own good.
A few really standout sequences -- particularly Hartnett's violent charge down flight after flight of jailhouse stairs -- do make the style-over-substance nature of Bunraku entertaining, but their arrivals are poorly paced throughout. Despite there not being enough content to spread across the run time, however, the movie at least looks stunning at every turn.
Rubber is a hard film to get your head around, and writer-director Quentin Dupieux wouldn't have it any other way. After all, how does one make a movie about a sentient car tire that goes on a killing spree make sense? You don't. And that's the point. It's a nonsensical story that exists entirely because it's nonsensical. A lot of people will hate that; I loved the hell out of it.
Dupieux' film is one of the funniest at Fantastic Fest. It exists in a bizarre world where not only are there no rules, but there's no set of instructions to clarify that there are no rules. Things just happen, and it all makes sense in a very ethereal, dream-like way. Plus, it's got an absurd amount of exploding heads in it, which is always a good thing.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
I feel as though I don't deserve to enjoy movies as much as I enjoyed Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, film that might as well have dripped out of my brain while I was sleeping. Jalmari Helander's feature debut is about a corporation that tries to dig up Santa Claus' body from within its tomb in a mountain in Finland. Thing is, the Finnish version of Santa isn't the jolly, gift-giving version that the U.S. knows. All their Santa -- who sports not a red cap but a massive set of goat horns -- cares about is dishing out punishment to naughty boys and girls.
What's so great about Rare Exports, however, is that it's not the Santa slasher that plot description implies. It's less a horror movie and more a dark adventure with a child as the hero. Think of it as The Goonies meets ... I'm not even sure what. There are too many muses at play to single any one out. In an instant, Helander's film jumps from being a "kids trying to save their parents' livelihood" story to a twisted horror movie to a Die Hard-esque, against-all-odds action flick. It all comes together painlessly, though, and I can't wait for it to come out Stateside this Christmas. Check out the trailer here.