Mandibules [Mandibles] (2020)

Director: Quentin Dupieux
Writer: Quentin Dupieux
Cast: Grégoire Ludig, David Marsais, Adèle Exarchopoulos, India Hair, Roméo Elvis, Coralie Russier, Bruno Lochet
Part of: SLASH 1/2 Festival
Seen on: 17.6.2021

Content Note: ableism

Manu (Grégoire Ludig) is currently homeless and desperate for cash, so when he gets recruited to transport a mysterious suitcase from one house to the next, he accepts. He steals a car and asks his best friend Jean-Gab (David Marsais) along for the ride. When they check the trunk, though, they find a dog-sized fly trapped there. Jean-Gab is certain, if they manage to train the fly, all of their problems are over. But that might be easier said than done.

Mandibules is a bit of a mixed bag of beans. There were definitely moments where I had to laugh in all honesty, but there are also really problematic things here that should not be in the film at all. Despite those, though, the film managed to take me along for the ride.

The film poster showing the main characters of the film in a group shot.

Manu and Jean-Gab are not necessarily nice people. They are self-involved and have ambiguous morals, never thinking much further ahead than what would bring them a little advantage in the next moment. And yet, despite the many horrible decisions they make, they make them with no evil intent and with a certain kind of naivité that makes it possible to still go along with them and even wish them success (kinda), almost despite myself.

And some things are really outright funny here, starting with the world’s best unicorn bicycle. Or simply the general idea of a giant fly. Fascinatingly enough, Dominique, as the fly is quickly named by Jean-Gab, absolutely works as a pet somehow. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but there is a certain kind of cuteness here.

Manu (Grégoire Ludig) and Jean-Gab (David Marsais) staring into the trunk of the car.

But the film also has some serious issues, and most of them lie in the character of Agnes (Adèle Exarchopoulos). That entire character is just one long, drawn-out ableist joke. And I found no wiggle room to read it as anything but ableist. I could detect no subversion or irony whatsoever. It was completely jarring, and frankly, absolutely unnecessary. It’s not the only time that the film misses with a joke, but it’s definitely the most egregiously offensive moment of punching down.

Still, there is something engaging about Dupieux’s special blend of weirdness in this film. Not all of his films worked for me so far, but I’d say that Mandibules is a very solid entry in his filmography.

Giant fly Dominique on the bed.

Summarizing: Fun, despite problems.

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