Venice 2020 review: Mandibules (Quentin Dupieux)

A Dumb and Dumber in the South of France, Quentin Dupieux’ eighth film Mandibules is at its core a film about the importance of friendship and how it trumps any material gain. Built around that is a situational comedy that is probably best enjoyed on recreational grass and features an incredibly over-the-top supporting performance by Adèle Exarchopoulos and a puppeteering job on a level that is unexpected in such a relatively small French comedy. For select audiences who can roll with it (or roll one to it) only.

Manu (Grégoire Ludig) is a bum who sleeps on the beach and is not the brightest bulb out there. When somebody offers him an opportunity to make some quick cash he immediately jumps on it. All he has to do is pick up a suitcase, put it in the trunk of his car (he has to steal one to fulfill this part), and deliver it somewhere else. He invites his best friend Jean-Gab (David Marsais) along for the ride. Soon after they make a shocking discovery in the boot of the car: a giant fly the size of a big dog (‘played’ by renowned puppeteer Dave Chapman, known for his work as BB-8 in the final Star Wars trilogy among other things). Jean-Gab gets the luminous idea to train the fly so it can steal stuff for them. A string of stupidities soon leads them to be out of money and out of gas. As luck will have it though, a case of mistaken identity brings them into the summer home of Cécile (India Hair) and her friends. A place to sleep, plenty of food, and even a pool: life has suddenly turned for the better for the two friends. The only problem is to hide a giant fly somewhere.

Don’t go into Mandibules expecting sophisticated humor or a deeper thematic meaning. The comedy doesn’t rise above the level of laughing at Manu and Jean-Gab’s mind-boggingly dumb behavior, which extends to the supporting characters. Not that this isn’t funny at times. A great example of this is Adèle Exarchopoulos as Cécile’s friend Agnès, a woman who suffered brain damage years ago as a result of a skiing incident. This causes her to speak at a very loud volume all the time. Exarchopoulos plays this to the rafters, and there is great fun to be had with her going way over the top to the point where you think the speech impediment isn’t the only result of her brain damage. But in itself the ‘joke’ of this situation is pretty simple, and also drawn out ad nauseam. Manu and Jean-Gab are presented as simple-minded fools, so their actions can be explained away, but Cécile and her friends react to this in a manner that is almost equally simple-minded.

Where Mandibules fares a little better is in the sweet way it relays the message that Manu and Jean-Gab’s friendship is more important for them than all the material wealth they dream of. In particular Jean-Gab is a kindhearted character who builds a true bond with and love for the fly he christens Dominique. This ‘friendship over richness’ angle is rather bluntly amplified late in the film, when after all their trials and tribulations Jean-Gab finally delivers the suitcase. This trajectory comes full circle in Mandibules‘ last scene as the friends realize that their bond is the most important, only to have that challenged in the final second. It’s not exactly deep and plays on the level of life lessons of your average Pixar film, but at least it gives Mandibules SOME direction, because elsewhere it is pretty much aimless.

The cast rolls with it, in particular Ludig and Marsais (who outside of film form the comedy duo Palmashow), and as noted Exarchopoulos who gets to show off her comedic skills (and does she!). The puppeteering work on Dominique is superb, as Chapman manages to give her a set of true base emotions in her interactions with Jean-Gab. As a whole though Mandibules has too little going for it other than a quick laugh at silly people. At just over 70 minutes it is blissfully short, but even with that short runtime it drags in places. A minor effort by Dupieux, not without its charms but ultimately so unsubstantial that even a fly has enough attention span for it.