One of the many delightful things about Quentin Dupieux’s films is that they do not waste our time. They are a marvel of economy while at the same time seriously introducing a wealth of bemusing ideas in their tightly written, superbly absurd plots.
And so it is with INCREDIBLE BUT TRUE (INCROYABLE MAI VRAI), a standout from the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival, and a piquant excursion into conspicuous consumption and the folly of trying to stop the hands of time. What obvious points M. Dupieux wishes to consider are rendered with gleeful excess, while the more subtle points slash their way as effectively as the broken glass that provides one of the film’s more poetic punch lines.
We find ourselves among the (putatively) comfortable middle-class as Alain (Alain Chabat) and Marie (Léa Drucker) are taking a look at the suburban home of their dreams. True, it is a little too big for the childless couple moving gamely into early middle-age, but there is a feature that the realtor (Stéphane Pezera) is keen to share with them. A manhole sized hole in the basement that, when the couple follows him down it, takes them back to the house but 12 hours in the future. (In a nifty bit of Escher-ization, the trio climb down from above into the home from the basement.) Naturally, he warns them not to get carried away with this special feature (there is no getting those 12 hours back), and even more naturally, one of them becomes obsessed with making the trip over and over again. The lesson there being always to read the fine print.
This being Dupieux, the story refuses to take the expected turn into one requiring a jump in time to save the day. No, it is just the amuse bouche as we move quickly from this morsel of weirdness into the real story. Alain’s boss, Gerard (Benoît Magimel) lives two blocks away, making the new house a little less comfortable for Alain, an insurance broker with difficult clients and a boss who is more a status-conscious dilettante than leader. That includes the after-dinner revelation that, in order to impress his latest, and much younger, girlfriend, Jeanne (Anaïs Demoustier), he has had a semi-legal, semi-ethical medical procedure done in order to enhance their sex life. That he obsesses with Jeanne later over whether or not Alain was suitably impressed by both the procedure and the price tag clearly establishes exactly for whom this procedure was done. That they had bickered venomously over exactly when during dinner to share the news clearly establishes many other things about them and their relationship.
Meanwhile, Alain, while failing in attempts at a reasonable work-life balance, and in keeping Gerard at least nominally running things, must also cope with Marie’s extended absences as she continually climbs down the hole in search of what she is convinced will be a new and better life. In his attempt to maintain their relationship, he is reduced to leaving her voice mail between her random visits with him, despite not being sure she even has her phone with her.
The tone is deadpan tongue-in-cheek, and the angst depicted has the rawness of sweaty desperation to it. Gerard’s manifesto about manhood falls apart as suddenly as the recoil of the rifle he’s demonstrating to Alain when it knocks him both onto his keester and for a loop. Mid-life crisis purchases go up in flames, and Marie’s photo shoots reveal less about what’s on the surface than the vacuum beneath the hard-won flawless skin.
It is Alain, comfortable in his own, incipiently sagging skin and with his (eventually) quiet, ordered life who sees the truth of what is going on around him. A beacon of sanity that is not unlike a voice crying in the wilderness (and, yes, I apologize for mixing that metaphor). Dupieux is making some profound philosophical points, and his use of droll humor and the ci-mentioned absurdity creates a dialectic that is not just astute, but irresistibly entertaining.
In only 1 hour and 14 minutes, INCREDIBLE BUT TRUE’s sly satire creates an engrossing and indelible world with an impeccable internal logic. It’s also some of the most sensible cinematic nonsense you will find anywhere.