Without the director’s name attached to the credits, and without Alain Chabat’s happily nonchalant presence gracing the screen, one might not recognize Incredible But True as part of the weird, wacky universe delicately fashioned by French DJ and filmmaker Quentin Dupieux. Indeed, its central conceit — a mysterious hole in a suburban basement violating certain laws of reality — has become commonplace in the indie circuit of late; the chasm has seen both literal and metaphorical deployments, and spawned both ingenious and inane interpretations of human fear and desire. In our case, a bit of both adjectives would just about summarize the mischief maestro’s style: Incredible But True finds middle-aged but perfectly functional couple Alain (Chabat) and Marie (Léa Drucker) moving into the suburbs together, into a house too big for two but affordable enough (with a mortgage, that is). The realtor shows them their basement and its hole, and divulges the latter’s mind-bending secrets. Suffice to say that, even without spoiling it just yet, the surprise is unraveled in classic Dupieux fashion; that is, matter-of-factly and with little formal or artistic restraint. Alain and Marie enter the hole, come out of it, and continue to live their lives with little more than slight intrigue.
Despite the many similarities shared with its predecessors (Deerskin featured a blade-wielding Jean Dujardin with a jacket obsession, and Mandibles a prehistoric-scaled fly), Incredible But True doesn’t quite retain the uninhibited exuberance reserved for those earlier films; instead, its mellow and contemplative designs make it one of Dupieux’s most melancholic outings in recent years. At its heart lies the question of finding joy and contentment amidst the onset of physical and emotional infirmity, as when the otherwise agreeable couple find themselves increasingly living apart under the same roof. Marie harbors some resentment over her lack of youth; Alain can hardly seem to care. Underscoring the pair’s woes are, naturally, those of another’s. Alain’s hot-headed boss, Gérard (Benoît Magimel), and his girlfriend (Anaïs Demoustier) happen to live two streets down from their latest residence, and, stopping by for dinner one night, they divulge Gérard’s latest gizmo to spice up their sex life and restore his virility: an “electronic penis” of Japanese origin, complete with size, shape, girth, tensile, and — curiously — “steering” functions.
Beyond mere comic relief, however, Gérard’s presence in Alain’s life undergirds the film’s satirical sensibilities more acutely, premising them on anxieties all too relatable even to present-day millennials. Where to draw the boundaries between boss and friend; what do you say to an increasingly withdrawn loved one; and how do you reconcile the safety of ordinary existence with both the pleasures and perils of extraordinary cures? At risk of some moral didacticism, Incredible But True concludes with a hasty, fast-forwarded montage of Alain and Marie’s spiritual descent (or ascent, depending on which way you look at it), but it’s a charge one may easily overlook considering just how high the bar for Dupieux really is (Rubber: sentient killer tires; Reality: a film devoted squarely to thematizing the ontological incompleteness of reality). Opening with a playfully synthetic rendition of Bach’s Badinerie (courtesy of Jon Santo from the 1970s), Incredible But True dignifies its titular materiality with a cool-headed sense of humor that, at first glance, may belie the sobriety and maturity within that far outweigh the lesser temptations of the modishly absurd. It’s Dupieux all right, except now it’s also uncomfortably close to home.
Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2022 — Dispatch 5.