Perhaps the most unbefitting title to arrive in the middle of a global pandemic, Quentin Dupieux’s Mandibles defies the current for two reasons. That its titular appendage serves a wholly positive function — of cheerful and robust consumption — rather than reflecting the fearful aversion towards its fluid-spewing, germ-spreading orifice that is virtually ubiquitous today might go over most heads. What does stand out, in contrast with the doom and gloom of Amy Seimetz’s She Dies Tomorrow or the stultifying landscapes of Ben Sharrock’s Limbo (as it were, both are considered unique, though by mere coincidence, to our hopelessly catastrophic climate), is the film’s rollicking disdain for pessimism and constraint. One will be hard-pressed to find anything from this year to top its whimsical chaos and flippant absurdity — traits admittedly suited to the increasingly surreal crises and developments of the world, but which are deployed with an opposite goal in mind.
That goal is success, which in the case of the film’s two dim-witted protagonists, translates to money. Portending untold riches and unending feasts, the prospect of just five hundred dollars spurs best friends Manu and Jean-Gab out of perennial drifting and on to a mission: delivering a mysterious suitcase to a friend’s boss. The contract specifies a car as the mode of transport, so the car-less duo steals a rusty Mercedes which they discover already occupied, by a giant fly in the trunk. Most would balk and run, and only the most ruthless of entrepreneurs would entertain the thought of exploiting the fly for commercial gain; unfortunately, Manu and Jean-Gab fit neither description. They choose the latter option anyway, deferring the inevitable question of profit to concentrate on more immediate concerns — food, lodging, a training regimen for newly christened “Dominique,” and setting fire to their newfound home.
Comic irreverence, a staple of Dupieux’s, works best unrestrained; Mandibles forgoes the rational subtexts of lesser comedies and shoots for what Peter Farrelly’s Dumb and Dumber, also unrestrained but with an unwanted addition of the borderline psychotic, missed. It has its own staples: mistaken identities, unlikely coincidences, dead pets, arguably offensive characterizations (Adèle Exarchopoulos; not a lesbian). But it is another thing altogether to springboard from one to another with the impulsive exuberance reserved for clowns. It’s something Mandibles pulls off tremendously well in an economical 77 minutes — the fly barely flies, and yet the viewer’s jaw already aches from sagging too long at the seeming impossibility of witnessing both the audaciously moronic and masterful.