Down The Hatch
French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux talks about his latest oddball offering, Incredible But True
Quentin Dupieux topped the UK singles chart in 1999 under the name Mr Oizo, with his dance track “Flat Beat”.
IF YOU’RE FAMILIAR WITH Quentin Dupieux’s filmography, you’ll know that it’s wildly idiosyncratic. Recent UK releases include Deerskin, about a deerskin jacket obsessive out to dispose of every other jacket in the world, and Mandibles, in which two doofuses consider using a gigantic fly to rob banks. If you’re not, then brace yourself before dipping in: these are wrong-footingly unpredictable films.
If Hollywood movies are structured like rock music, Dupieux’s are more akin to jazz, we suggest. “I think I know what you mean,” he laughs. “Comparing what I do with Hollywood is almost a joke, because in Hollywood everything is over-written, over-planned. Everything feels the same – even the good movies are built on a structure you’ve seen 3,000 times. It feels too scripted, very artificial.”
The French writer/director’s approach is different. “I trust my subconscious. Sometimes when I’m about to fall asleep something comes to my mind, and I know it’s a brilliant idea because I wasn’t looking for it.” Take Rubber, his 2010 film about a psychokinetic killer tyre. “I was trying to write a story about flying cubes coming from space. One night, I was trying to figure out what to do with special effects. The tyre came to my mind, and I erased everything. The concept is usually something I find like this: ‘Snap! Oh, this I love’! Then I never come back to it. Which gives my movies this weird feeling. Some people who don’t get it say, ‘Why’s he telling us this story? It’s not even finished.’”
At one point in his latest, Incredible But True, Dupieux quotes an image from Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou. Is the surrealist a filmmaker he admires? Bien sûr. “What I love about Buñuel is this freedom. Suddenly someone tells a dream, and you see the dream for 10 minutes. Useless! But that’s moviemaking: you tell a story to people, and everything can’t be logical in a story. The world is absurd! Everything is not scripted perfectly.”
The film makes use of two absurd ideas. Firstly: a couple move into a house with a hatch in the cellar. Climb down it and you emerge three days younger, but 12 hours later. It’s an idea Dupieux was “not looking for”, he explains. “I wanted to make a movie with Alain Chabat and Léa Drucker as the two main characters, so I started writing about them being a couple [Alain and Marie].
“After a few pages, I don’t know why, I started writing this mysterious thing about a tunnel in the basement. This is what I’m trying to do every time I write a movie. I know when I’m thinking too much that I’m going to come up with pre-made ideas. I’m trying to find stuff
that doesn’t exist.” Absurd concept two concerns Alain’s boss Gérard (Benoît Magimel), who announces over dinner that he now has an “electronic dick”. The effects of ageing are clearly bubbling in Dupieux’s subconscious. So does he, like Marie (who grows obsessed with reclaiming her lost youth), find himself obsessively staring in the mirror? “I hate to look at my body in the mirror, but it’s always been the case,” he laughs. “I must say: the electronic dick idea didn’t come from my personal issue. I’m fine!”
Besides absurdist conceits, Dupieux’s films also share short durations. Deerskin, Mandibles and Incredible But True all clock in under 80 minutes – something those of us who think 90 minutes is optimal can approve of. “I feel the same. Even when I’m enjoying a movie, when I see there’s still 45 minutes to go it’s like, ‘Too bad – I was enjoying it, but now I’m bored.’” Not that it’s deliberate, mind. “When I’m cutting my movies I don’t think about the clock. I’m just cutting, cutting, cutting, making it sharp. Then at the end, the producer asks me, ‘What’s the timing?’ ‘Sorry, 75 minutes again.’ I don’t know why!”
Incredible But True certainly could have been longer: it includes a 12-minute montage, covering three years of events. “Some critics thought I just destroyed the movie by editing,” says Dupieux, who relished the challenge of realising the sequence. “No, it was written like this. Exactly as we were saying about movie length: movie pace we usually know, and you can anticipate what’s going on – ‘Oh, I feel the end is coming.’ I was trying to write something different.
“It’s not a time travel movie,” he adds, “but it has this flavour a little bit – I’m trying to talk about time. So to me it was the only way to finish. The movie just dies, basically.”
Next up: Smoking Causes Coughing, a comedy about a superhero team on a teambuilding seminar, out in France on 30 November. As we speak, he’s editing a film shot in just nine days, which he says is “super realistic, very normal”. Bah. But after that he’s planning something “absolutely fucked up and crazy” – typical Dupieux, in other words. “I’m not trying to make a ‘good movie’, I’m trying to make my best movie,” he tells us. Long may it continue. IB
Incredible But True is out on Blu-ray on 7 November, from Arrow Video.
After a few pages, I started writing this mysterious thing about a tunnel