Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sighthound's Review of Rubber

A review of the Quentin Dupieux film “Rubber”
by The Sighthound




85 Min



English, French

DIR Quentin Dupieux

PROD Julien Berlan, Gregory Bernard

SCR Quentin Dupieux

DP Quentin Dupieux

CAST Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser, Ethan Cohn,
Charley Koontz, Hayley Holmes, Haley Ramm, Tara Jean O'Brien, Remy Thorne

ED Quentin Dupieux

PROD DES Pascale Ingrand

MUSIC Gaspard Augé, Sébastien Akchoté, Quentin Dupieux

SOUND Zsolt Magyar

“All great films, without exception contain an important element of No Reason”.
-Lieutenant Chad

I’m afraid I’m very hard to impress, or engage anymore. I watch a lot of movies and as someone who has spent years not only in marketing but in car sales as well, I’m difficult to “sell” new ideas to. But from the very first scene, Quentin Dupieux’s “Rubber” had me engrossed guaranteed that I was going to watch every single frame of this crazy film about a lovestruck tire on a killing spree.

“Fucked”. That’s possibly the best description I’ve heard yet of a film criticized for being too weird or pretentious. But “Fucked” works best for me because it’s simple, carnal and honest - like the film itself. It’s neither necessarily bad, or good, but clearly by that description, it’s something outrageous and unusual. It’s a moving storybook of fantastically absurd snapshots taken from the director's mind and assembled in a very simple stream-of-consciousness narrative. It’s as little a film as possible and more like the experience of viewing an interpretive painting. It simply presents images that we are allowed to witness and comment on. There may be a clear start, but not much else is logical or predictable. And that’s why I found it so refreshing and fun. Actually fun!

In the middle of a desert -nowhere in particular- a lone tire named Robert, half buried and long discarded by the rest of the world, gains consciousness and twists itself out of the sand. It “stands” up and very quietly, timidly begins to... experience life.

The opening shot feels intimate despite being outside on the daytime desert floor. The wind whistles by. A chair sits alone. Another. Then a shot of a sandy lane littered randomly with these same wooden chairs. A police cruiser turns into the lane and slowly, carefully knocks each one over as it crawls forward, zig-zagging towards the camera. Once every chair has been flattened, the car stops and the trunk springs open. A sheriff-type (Lieutenant Chad) deftly climbs out, walks up to the driver's window, and exchanges his sunglasses with a glass of water. Then, conspicuously holding the glass, he strides up to the camera and in one of the greatest “fourth wall” monologues ever, explains why every great film must include an important element of “no reason” absurdity. A conceit that was included for no other reason than simply because somebody involved in the making of the film felt like it. Bullshit. Nonsense. Every film is, essentially, at it’s core, bullshit.

I laughed following the scene, cheering on the writer/director for boldly taking on all critics before they’d even had a chance to judge his work. “This is absurd”, he was saying. “Deal with it”. And most importantly, it's absurd for absolutely no reason.

“Rubber” follows two stories as it unfolds: the first is Robert the tire’s story, his birth, self-realization and the discovery of his horrifying telekinetic powers. He falls in love with a beautiful woman driving by and pursues her, murdering anything in his way. Eventually the body count attracts the attention of the local police (including Lieutenant Chad featured in scene one) and a manhunt ensues climaxing in a dramatic confrontation between the blood-soaked tire and the forces of justice.

The second story is that of a group of observers witnessing Robert’s story from a nearby hillside. They watch through binoculars and comment on the action and their own feelings about it much like a Greek chorus. It’s bizarre, but fascinating and incredibly, when the director has decided that the observers have nothing more to add to his film, he removes them in a most preposterous way.

But the film isn’t all whimsy. It’s actually a well crafted effort. It looks good. The camerawork, clean and capable, is never distracting and captures the remarkable voyeuristic tone of the “story” quite well. The sound and soundtrack are excellent, no doubt helped by Dupieux’s history as alter-ego “Mr. Oizo” the techno-DJ musical phenomenon. Dupieux is also credited as editor for the first time, but despite that, the film flows well through it’s loose structure. The craft work involved, actually works.

If there is a weakness to the film I’d have to admit that the lead character, Robert (the killer tire) actually has more presence and charisma than any of the human actors, and that’s too bad. I do feel that the project is well served by the use of no-name performers, but likely would have been more enjoyable with people who knew what to do with such obtuse material. I wonder if any of them knew how funny it could have been or that despite being marketed as a thriller, that they were, in fact, making a black comedy? Nevertheless the actors, amazingly aren’t all that important and are -as I said- dwarfed by the film’s concept and it’s steel-belted star, Robert.

*Ahoy, Mateys! There be spoilers ahead*

In one of my favorite scenes, Lieutenant Chad , on the scene of Robert’s latest murder, speaks passionately to his posse, attempting to explain to them that the victim isn’t actually dead; she’s merely an actor in a movie. It’s great fun watching the director dismantle the medium by breaking every rule in the book. But he outdoes himself, by having the Lieutenant Chad’s argument fail, when the actor -still dead- never “breaks character” and the other officers, can’t grasp what it is that he’s trying to say. After an uncomfortable pause, Chad is forced to concede and the story carries on, despite his best efforts.

The strangest part of my experience while watching “Rubber” was that I never felt myself rooting for anyone within the film, especially Robert, the tire. Dupieux never made Robert likable enough or ruined the experience by turning him into another “E.T.”. Despite illustrating Robert's emotional journey fabulously, I never “felt” for him. None of the other characters were capable of that either. They were all merely details. But I was cheering, however. I was cheering for this crazy film, the outrageous concept, for Dupieux and for the idea that these really obtuse and uncategorizable films might find an audience outside of art house cinemas. Why? No reason.

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