Review: “Mandibles”

Quentin Dupieux is back with another filmic reverie. His latest feature follows two friends coasting around France, getting into all sorts of hijinks and trying to tame a giant fly. The film is available on demand and in theaters as of July 23.

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“Mandibles,” written and directed by Quentin Dupieux, follows Manu (Grégoire Ludig), Jean-Gab (David Marsais), and a bug. This film is available on-demand and in theaters starting July 23. (Photo Courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

By Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer, Abroad Arts Editor

“Mandibles” purports to be a film about two buddies and a bug; it begs to be bizarre. But the truth is, “Mandibles” is no more than a simple film about how friendship gets people through the strangest of situations that plays like “Bill & Ted” by way of Buñuel.

 Written and directed by renowned absurdist Quentin Dupieux whose credits include “Rubber” — a film about a murderous telepathic tire — and “Deerskin” — a film about an amateur filmmaker with a lust for blood and an obsession with deer — “Mandibles” is expectedly far out. And for all its absurdities, the final product is strangely human and heartfelt.

Throughout the film, we follow Manu (Grégoire Ludig) and Jean-Gab (David Marsais). The pair are dumber than their counterparts in “Dumber & Dumber” but there’s something inherently charming about their demeanor. It’s as if the duo is actually living out what people mean when they say someone’s living the life and for that effortlessness they don’t even have to act to come off as friendly and intriguing. 

“Mandibles” succeeds by recognizing its own air of nonchalance and having fun with it. The film gains a sense of cool by humbling itself, revealing itself to be a gesture of hilariousness rather than a daring experimental foray.

Dupieux’s decision to inject an air of humility into “Mandibles’” many absurdities allows him to create a framework that supports the randomness of his narrative. Nothing ever really seems out of place in the eyes of the film’s open-minded, easy-going characters. Everything in “Mandibles” is congruously chaotic, and for that reason it should be said that Dupieux is one of the few filmmakers today who still dreams up his stories.

In fact, it would be appropriate to say “Mandibles” feels like a dream. It just kind of starts, then spirals, hits a couple of interludes along the way, harbors a familiar cameo and abruptly ends. A lot happens and it’s all hazy; a bucket of incongruities sprinkled with enough morsels of madness to deny viewers the ability to entirely forget despite how foggy or unreal everything seems. 

And so, as the film moves from scene to scene, it maintains an incredible ability to keep viewers invested because they’ll never be able to predict where Dupieux will shoot off to next. With the potential for the narrative to go in any direction, the only grounding factors become the film’s characters, specifically its leading duo. It must be stated that their performances sell the show. In fact, everyone involved in “Mandibles” demonstrates an impressive ability to run along with a joke, playing into the quasi-improvisatory mania of the film’s narrative with a stern seriousness that expounds its elements of silliness.

 Ludig and Marsais are great as two bumbling, lovable idiots, but the film’s most memorable moments come from Adèle Exarchopoulos’s performance as Agnès, a woman who can only yell due to a vocal problem resulting from a freak ski accident. Exarchopoulos indulges in an energetic deadpan demeanor that seems oxymoronic but fits the world of “Mandibles” perfectly. She complains about how difficult it is living a life where everyone thinks you’re yelling at them when she’s simply trying to communicate, instilling pathos in a character that could have come off as entirely detestable in the hands of any other actor. Such a performance is proof that Dupieux knows how to find a sense of humanity where you’d least expect it. He is an empathetic filmmaker who coats his stories in absurdities as a means of focusing on that which will always surface in the face of the surreal: human hearts and minds, kind, vulnerable and alive.

“Mandibles” is strange and loveable, like an ugly plushy you can’t help but cuddle. The tighter your hug becomes, the more comfort the plushy offers, resulting in a viewing experience that soothes and enamors. That is to say, the experience is one that onlookers will never understand until they surrender themselves and hug the ugly plushy too.

Email Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer at [email protected]