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More of a cinematic prankster than a regular filmmaker, DJ-turned-director Quentin Dupieux has crafted a handful of dark comedies — Steak, Rubber, Wrong, Wrong Cops and Reality — that are equal parts Michel Gondry, Tex Avery and the Coen brothers, with banal storylines that suddenly take strange, surrealistic and violent turns into the unknown.
His latest work, the barely feature-length Keep an Eye Out (Au Poste!), continues in that vein, starting off with the ordinary scene of a cop taking a statement from a witness and then spiraling out of control into a series of twisted events, accidental deaths and black humor. Released in France for the summer break, this fun (if rather flimsy) exercise in genre-bending should keep Dupieux’s cult status intact both at home and abroad.
Set almost entirely in a police precinct that exists in some kind of late-’70s time warp, the story (by Dupieux, who’s also credited with the cinematography and editing) is basically an extended two-hander between the deadpan Captain Buron (Benoit Poelvoorde) and an intractable witness, Fugain (Gregoire Ludig), who comes across a body at the foot of his apartment building and decides to report it to the cops.
Stuck all night at the station to give his testimony, Fugain gets caught in an absurdist comedy where Buron keeps starting and stopping the interrogation, or else tries to “break” his witness with trick questions. When he sends in another cop (Marc Fraize) to keep watch over Fugain, what ensues is a brutal instance of involuntary manslaughter by metal triangle (the kind you used to use in geometry class).
What all this is truly about is anyone’s guess, and like Dupieux’s other movies, Keep an Eye Out is chock full of bizarre happenings that don’t really add up to much but are nonetheless well orchestrated and amusing to watch. Highlights here include a guy smoking cigarettes with a hole in his chest, another guy eating an entire oyster (shell and all) and a final twist that has a Bunuelian vibe to it — although this film seems to pay homage to the classic Claude Miller policier from 1981, Garde a Vue.
If the narrative sometimes drags on despite the short running time, that’s probably because Dupieux and his cast seem to revel in all the dead air that hangs around the police station and a few other locations (mainly Fugain’s apartment) while the oddities continue around them. Belgian comic star Poelvoorde (Man Bites Dog), who can rattle off lines at top speed, is much more subdued here than usual, letting the jokes develop as he skeptically looks on. Ludig, who’s known in France for his TV sketch series Palmashow, sports a Magnum, P.I. mustache and Hawaiian shirt, playing his scenes in a straight-faced manner that only enhances the level of weirdness.
Tech credits resemble the rest of Dupieux’s oeuvre, with the director-DP-editor making the most out of a quick shoot and a limited setting (the majority of the action was lensed inside the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Communist Party Headquarters in Paris). Like the film itself, the soundtrack by regular collaborator David “Tahiti Boy” Sztanke is both a throwback to the groovy 1970s and a mix of more modern melodies, further adding to the movie’s offbeat tone.
Production companies: Cinefrance, Nexus Factory, uMedia
Cast: Benoit Poelvoorde, Gregoire Ludig, Marc Fraize, Anais Demoustier, Philippe Duquesne, Orelsan
Director-screenwriter: Quentin Dupieux
Producers: Thomas Verhaeghe, Mathieu Verhaeghe
Director of photography: Quentin Dupieux
Production designer: Joan Le Boru
Costume designer: Isabelle Pannetier
Editor: Quentin Dupieux
Composer: David Sztanke
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