Making a name for himself with projects such as Rubber, a film about a killer tyre, and Deerskin, a movie about a man’s obsession with his deerskin jacket that causes him to turn to a life of crime, it should come as no surprise that flamboyant French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux’s latest feature, Mandibles, centres itself around a giant fly.
Specifically, Mandibles follows two simple-minded friends who, upon finding a giant fly in the trunk of a car, decide to train the fly in order to get rich. The mere randomness of this plot, as well as the sheer stupidity of tweedledee and tweedledum’s plan, is the perfect representation of how this filmmaker’s ninth feature film is executed.
The early moments of this delayed 2020 release are promising, Dupieux mixing quirky and random humour with a unique but adorable and believable friendship played terrifically by Grégoire Ludig (as Manu) and David Marsais (as Jean-Gab). Under the tutelage of their off-kilter director, the pair bring a level of relatability to their airheaded characters and are somewhat funny, but as the film rolls on even their committed performances are unable to rescue a level of execution that simply falls off a cliff – it becomes more and more clear as the minutes mount up that Mandibles has very little to offer.
Dupieux is somewhat surprisingly out of form here, he and his crew offering filmmaking with a technical quality you’d expect from an expensive feature but failing to surpass that very low bar. In Mandibles, there is little to no artistic flare, something that can rarely be levelled at a filmmaker whose work is so instantly recognisable; the camera work, sound design and direction coming across as uninspired, mediocre.
As mediocre as many of the technical aspects are, it is within the screenplay that the cracks really begin to emerge, each growing to mercilessly tear apart the entire film.
The narrative moves along at a reasonably brisk pace but each new scene seems to mark a further dip in quality. The story, that seemingly centres on the giant fly at first before eventually arriving at a point where the fly is essentially irrelevant, inconsequentially runs through 78 minutes of dumb and lazy humour. The giant insect is arguably the film’s largest draw, and seeing it substituted for comedy lacking in any kind of inspiration or quality becomes a huge source of frustration.
Without a doubt Mandibles’ greatest sin is in the introduction of a character by the name of Agnès (Adèle Exarchopoulos – Blue Is the Warmest Colour), a young woman who permanently shouts when talking due to brain damage caused by a skiing accident. The gag is dead on arrival, yet the character has the third biggest role in the movie, leading to a rough half of the film which becomes insufferable due to not only the annoyance of a character permanently shouting, but how problematic, dated and painfully unfunny “loud brain damaged friend” is as a concept.
Though Agnès is by far the film’s worst example of Mandibles’ character work, there comes a point where each character ceases to be likeable. Outside of Manu, Jean-Gab and Agnès, every character is two-dimensional at best – and although Manu and Jean-Gab start off as likeable goofballs, they certainly do not end the film this way, becoming nothing more than just two shallow idiots. With such a lack of likeable characters and with the fly essentially becoming irrelevant, there comes a point where Mandibles feels lacking in meaning or purpose; a film through which many will wonder why they are watching it and why it was ever made in the first place.
In Mandibles, it seems that Quentin Dupieux has perhaps gone too far or simply lost his spark. The largest issue with this latest offering is the misconception on behalf of the filmmaker and producers that “random and quirky” is equal to “creative and unique”. It isn’t. And after a few brief moments of promise, this becomes abundantly clear, Mandibles continuing on to offer precisely nothing in the hour-plus that remains.