In MANDIBLES, Quentin Dupieux takes us on a road trip with two lovable innocents and an outsized housefly. Why there is an outsized housefly in the trunk of a dilapidated Mercedes just waiting to be discovered/rescued/exploited by this pair of misfits is never explained, nor does it need to be. This latest excursion by Dupieux into whimsically subversive filmmaking is about the humans involved. The fly is merely the catalyst, an ingenious device to provoke the viewer into considering the absurdity of humankind, and the upside of folly, while also being devastatingly funny
The pair are the homeless Jean-Gab (Grégoire Ludig) and Manu (David Marsais), who well into adulthood is still living with his mother. They are lifelong buddies with a special handshake, iffy ethics, and a knack for getting in their own way when it comes to success. As they scrape by with no life plan, and even less interest in creating one, Jean-Gab is offered a quick 500 Euros to deliver a mysterious valise, the which must be concealed from view while en-route to its destination. It’s Manu who comes up with a vehicle of dubious origin to transport it the valise, not realizing that there is a giant insect already on board. When they discover it, rather than wonder about why it exists at all, they accept its existence without question, and proceed to come up with a plan to become rich by training it to steal whatever they want, from groceries to bank notes. All they need is a private place away from prying eyes to befriend it, and everything will fall into place.
Dupieux is working on two levels here. There is the complete insanity of thinking a fly of any size can be befriended in a meaningful way, much less induced to commit larceny, and then there is the steadfast dedication that the friends evince towards their plan and to the fly itself. Against all reason, Dominique as she is dubbed (again, why it’s a female fly is never explored) seems to take to Manu when he goes about gaining the fly’s trust with a fiercely maternal devotion. Jean-Gab, for his part, may question why Manu has decided on their project’s gender, but he never wavers in seeing the plan through, nor does he waste time worrying about abandoning the easy money for an idea that only he and Many would think was the right way to go. The effects wizards behind Dominique are to be gives kudos for creating a creature that has a winning personality capable of exacting empathy from us despite a few dubious menu choices, but it’s the projections by her captors of all their hopes and dreams onto her that make Dominique a fully realized character. Albeit one about which we are never quite sure of. The mystery is tantalizing.
Through kidnappings, trailer fires, and a case of mistaken identity with a punchline, the duo float along in their alternate reality that, as the film progresses, reveals a skewed validity, pointedly commenting about the effects of economic success on the soul. In other hands, the vapid group Jean-Gab an Many encounter enjoying the summer at their parent’s home would be a painfully obvious commentary on clueless class privilege. In Dupieux’s, it is both more subtle and more flagrant, extrapolating the smug self-assurance into a persistent shouter (thanks to a head injury) barely tolerated by her peers, and subject to the cruelest, yet funniest moment in the entire oeuvre.
Never forget that Dupieux is as ruthless as he is brilliant.
MANDIBLES is a deadly serious comedy. Cinematic rules are not so much broken as ignored, but there is the unmistakable intention of a master plan, making each development as shocking as it is original. Never has being blindsided by a story been such a delight.