May 5, 2015

Review: Dupieux's "Reality" is More Askew, Confounding and Accessible Than Ever

Alain Chabat
A lot can be said about French director Quentin Dupieux. While he has yet to become a household name for fans of absurdist cinema, he has remained an anarchic prankster in the past few years by delivering films about killer tires (Rubber), lost dogs (Wrong) and extremely corrupt law enforcement (Wrong Cops). As his cast of regulars has gone on to include Tim & Eric cohort Eric Wareheim, it seems like the director is geared towards making cinema that will frustrate you with innocuous amateurish style. In fact, while he isn't all that stylistically impressive, he remains an acquired taste meant not to be taken too seriously. With Reality, he pushes the limits to even the idea of coherence with one of his most intentionally confusing deconstructions of complicated film making. The results, as before, depend on your willingness to put up with it. However, it also remains probably his most accessible film to date.
While it is easy to describe the basis of Reality, it is hard to explain the plot of Reality. It follows a series of intertwining stories that includes a young girl named Reality (Kyla Kenedy) who discovers a blue video tape inside of a dead animal, a camera operator named Jason (Alain Chabat) who must find an Oscar-winning groan sound effect for a film, a cross-dressing school principal named Henri (Wareheim) and a cook show host who wears some animal costume named Dennis (Jon Heder). Over the course of the following 90 minutes, these plots will intertwine in ways that don't entirely make sense. Almost as if a parody of Inception, the realities of the characters are entered through characters waking up and experiencing their own heightened absurdity. To make sense of who is the central focus is to go through a hellish task of making sense of the film. If this frustrates you, then Dupieux is not for you. If you can live with it, the acid trip of a film is a jab at logic that pays off not with answers, but with the sense of confusion that films like The Big Sleep and Inherent Vice (though not as good as either) leaves you with.
The one interesting aspect of the film is that despite having the flimsiest of continuity, it feels like a series of vignettes loosely tied together. Much like how Wrong and Wrong Cops have a conjoined universe, this one feels like stories bumping into each other and suffering brain damage along the way. There's a moment in which Jason is confronting a studio executive about his film. The executive spills ink on a carpet and asks for someone to clean it. When the man walks in moments later, the executive claims that it has already been cleaned. There's nothing to suggest that this happened. However, it is a perfect summation of the film in which things happen and ideas are dropped constantly as if they are distracted by something more interesting. This is often juxtaposed with Jason groaning into a tape recorder while sitting in his car and annoying nearby patrons. There is a reality to this film, but the further in things go, the more brain damage that is felt in between coherent plot advancements.
It may seem lazy to make a film that has no resolution. However, Reality is a film that feels genuinely in the mold of someone obsessed with killer tires and doing things for, as he stated in Rubber, "No reason." Reality is a film that lives on impulse and raises more ideas and conundrums than any coherent plot. Are the characters insane? Quite possibly. Is the direction misleading? Pretty often. However, there's a sense that this is a film that Dupieux made to wax his own creative noodle and prank audiences into liking it. He has never been a conventional filmmaker and thus shouldn't be expected any less of at this point. The one benefit of having a vignette-style film is that it allows for each story to take breaks before they tire out. It isn't nearly as abrasive as Wrong Cops, and that may be its biggest achievement. All it will do is confuse you and make you give unwarranted comparisons to David Lynch.
Reality is a film that avoids logic at every turn and will do so with stark contrivances. There are meta moments that dissect the process of film making, but it is scattered in between delirious moments of nonsense that is simply pleasurable to watch. For those looking for high art, this is far from it. For those looking for something that challenges you to understand even the simplest ideas, this may be worth exploring. Dupieux is a prankster at heart and with Reality takes the piss out of needlessly complicated films that get more pride in faking smarts than being smart. Yes, this may be at times too lowbrow, but that's part of its charm. If you go in with this in mind, you may just make it out alive.

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