'Reality' ('Realite'): Venice Review

Courtesy of Biennale di Venezia
As unfunny odd things get odder, things become more fun

Filmmaker Quentin Dupieux's latest stars "Napoleon Dynamite"'s Jon Heder as an itchy TV host alongside comic Alain Chabat and actress Elodie Bouchez, who play a French expat couple in California

VENICE — French director Quentin Dupieux is slowly but surely carving a niche for himself as the guy who makes weird-but-not-necessarily-funny movies, and his latest concoction, Reality (Realite), perfectly fits this description. The California-set film contains several bizarre storylines, including those of a French cameraman who needs to find the perfect groan so he can get his movie funded, a cooking-show host in a rat costume who gets real itchy and a little girl who's convinced a wild boar ate a mysterious VHS tape whole.

None of these semi-absurd tales are particularly funny, though there's some fun to be had in the film's second half trying to keep up with Dupieux's storytelling and editing skills, as he applies the logic of an M.C. Escher drawing to his tangle of stories. Reality won't break the bank anywhere, though like Dupieux's previous films, such as Rubber and Wrong Cops, some festivals and VOD platforms might want to give it a go.

Jason (popular French comic Alain Chabat) is third cameraman on a terrible, four-camera cooking show hosted by the most uninteresting TV presenter of all time, Dennis (Jon Heder, of Napoleon Dynamite fame). He presents the show in a rat suit, one assumes in a misguided attempt to make him more interesting (or perhaps as a kind of weird nod to Pixar's Ratatouille?). Dennis is convinced that a change of detergent has given him a rash, though the doctor he consults can't find anything except for an "eczema of the mind."

Things aren't much more normal in the storyline involving a precocious little girl called Reality (Kyla Kenedy), who sees her father empty a boar he shot and who spies a blue VHS cassette amidst the entrails, something her parents outright dismiss as impossible.

Reality's story and the mysterious cassette are part of a feature film being shot by the former documentary director Zog (John Glover), whose French producer, called Bob Marshall (Jonathan Lambert, from Dupieux's debut feature, Steak), of course, who's willing to invest in a barely-there template idea for a movie from Jason as long as he can find the perfect death grunt for all the characters that'll be wiped out by the deadly waves of evil TVs.

There's also a cross-dressing dreamer (Eric Wareheim, one of the two titular leads in Wrong Cops) who's a client of Jason's flighty psychotherapist wife (Elodie Bouchez) and the principal at Reality's school.

For roughly the first half, these stories are being constructed and mostly just odd instead of uproarious. Weird questions keep arising, such as why would any terrible cooking show shoot with four cameras, who names their child Reality or how would a girl not yet in high school even know what a VHS tape is? There's also not enough bite or freshness in the film's supposed satire of the U.S. television and film industry, and the storytelling tempo is surprisingly slow. One half wishes that the manic energy and let's-see-what-sticks mentality of some of Dupieux's previous films would have been present here, even if that approach often seemed to yield more misses than hits.

But things get more interesting in the film's second part, when Dupieux, who not only wrote but also edited the film, starts to go down unexpected rabbit holes to connect his stories. Even if it's unlikely to hold up to any kind of logical analysis, there is something pleasantly amusing about trying to follow and keep up with the film's narrative acrobatics.

The film's peculiar atmosphere is translated aurally by an almost constant use of composer Philip Glass's eerie, hollowly electronic 1971 composition Music with Changing Parts. This fitting choice also welcomely suggests that Dupieux, who's first career is that of a musician who performs as Mr. Oizo, has at least started to realize that he doesn't necessarily need to man every post on every one of his films. That said, the multihyphenate filmmaker did shoot this particular film again, this time in washed-out colors that range from sandy tones to faded blue jeans and with lots of arty shallow focus. Locations are also well chosen.

Production companies: Realitism Film, Realitism Group, Boite Noire, Rubber Films, Versus Productions
Cast: Alain Chabat, Jonathan Lambert, Elodie Bouchez, Kyla Kenedy, John Glover, Eric Wareheim, Jon Heder, John Glover
Writer-Director: Quentin Dupieux
Producers: Gregory Bernard, Diane Jassem, Josef Lieck, Kevin Van Der Meiren
Director of photography: Quentin Dupieux
Production designer: Joan Le Boru
Costume designer: Joan Le Boru
Editor: Quentin Dupieux
Music: Philip Glass
Sales: Indie Sales

No rating, 87 minutes