A scenario of magical realism achieved as if through a scuzzy bong rip, French director Quentin Dupieux’s Mandibles follows two slacker friends who scheme to make some quick cash to scrape by with the friendly assistance of an oversized housefly. Though Dupieux’s previous films such as Rubber and Deerskin never shy away bloodshed and suffering, his latest effort is overwhelmingly defined by a sense of joie de vivre despite a typically surreal plot and the undeniable disaster left in its protagonists’ wake. The filmmaker’s absurdist comedy leanings are on full display, rendering Mandibles his most surprisingly exuberant film to date.
Unemployed and homeless, Manu (Grégoire Ludig) is fast asleep on the beach when he is propositioned by a frequent collaborator-in-crime to complete a very simple task: Pick up a briefcase from point A, drive it to point B and receive $500. Not one to turn down easy money, Manu manages to drive off in a beat-up set of stolen wheels. Instead of heading to the pick-up spot straight away, he decides to see if his best friend Jean-Gab (David Marsais), who works a dead-end job at a local auto body shop, might want in on the plan. Only 13 miles away from their intended destination, the pair notice a disconcerting noise coming from the back of the car. Upon inspection, the source of the thunking is revealed: An uncannily large fly is tucked away in the trunk, giving the friends an entirely new endeavor to set their sights on. Tired of having to fend for themselves, they decide to train the fly to go off and commit their crimes for them, leaving the two to hang back and “sit pretty” in the interim.
Bizarre but never confounding, Mandibles is a superbly executed tragicomedy. Manu and Jean-Gab navigate perilous incidents ranging from four-alarm fires to belligerent hostage situations, simply shrugging in spite of all of their fuck-ups and misguidance. The pair’s idle reaction to their misfortune only adds another veneer of hilarity to the already farcical plotline. When a case of mistaken identity grants the friends a chance to crash at a bougie vacation house on the coast, their oblivious hosts’ ridiculous insistence on politeness and good manners makes them appear far more deranged than the wannabe grifters and their enormous pet fly. Particularly when it comes to Agnès (marvelously performed by Adèle Exarchopoulos, best known in the U.S. as the star of 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Color)—a resident with a volume-control issue stemming from a ski-related incident that shouldn’t be funny, but certainly is—her insistence on adhering to textbook French civility despite a startling, brash tone indicates a certain commentary on an antiquated notion of politeness. The clashing class mannerisms become palpable as Manu and Jean-Gab grow increasingly comfortable in the swanky abode where they are clearly so out of place—a light touch from Dupieux that toys with notions of French gentility through situational awkwardness and comedic levity.
Though Dominique the fly (puppeted by Dave Chapman) might not reach the degree of adoration attained by Evie the cow (First Cow) or Brandy from the currently acclaimed Pig, there is still an unrelenting cuteness to the perfectly dog-sized insect. Dominique’s distinctly domesticated nature also imbues Mandibles with an overt sweetness, a quality which in turn extends to the carefulness with which Manu and Jean-Gab handle her. She is lovingly transported between locales as a skittish cat would be brought to the vet—swaddled in a plush blanket and cradled in her owner’s arms. While the guys definitely have a comfortable long-standing friendship (indicated via an endearingly goofy handshake and nickname combo), Dominique’s presence has undoubtedly softened them. Though they strive to use her as a “drone” who can simply fly away and fetch any worldly item they desire, it’s evident that the rowdily incompetent duo is now a slightly more functional trio—if only because Manu and Jean-Gab suddenly have a slightly better grasp at taking care of another living thing, which in turn will (hopefully) lead to them taking better care of themselves.
Irreverent and heartfelt at once, Mandibles’ comedic duo is part Cookie and King Lu from First Cow, part Dante and Randall from Clerks. They treat the animal which promises them profit with reverence while simultaneously acting in selfish, boorish ways totally unfit for polite society. Though Dupieux’s films have never shied away from violence and destruction, Mandibles preserves the filmmaker’s penchant for perplexity while asserting that life is a glorious thing—even in its distasteful weirdness.
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Writer: Quentin Dupieux
Stars: David Marsais, Grégoire Ludig, Adèle Exarchopoulos, India Hair, Roméo Elvis, Dave Chapman
Release Date: July 23, 2021 (Magnet Releasing)
Natalia Keogan is a freelance film writer based in Queens, New York. Her work has been featured in Paste Magazine, Blood Knife Magazine and Filmmaker Magazine, among others. Find her on Twitter @nataliakeogan