The prolific French filmmaker's latest spoofs Saturday morning kids' television with his usual degree of throwaway thoughtfulness
French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux has cobbled together a cult fanbase courtesy of his prodigious work-rate (five feature films since 2018 alone, alongside a whole other career as a musician via Mr Oizo); his films all have a high-concept genre-inflected idea at their source and brief runtimes – most clock in at less than 80 minutes.
Smoking Causes Coughing is as surreal and amusing as any of his other works. Here, we follow a Power Rangers-style group called the Tobacco Force, comprising of Benzene (Gilles Lelouche), Methanol (Vincent Lacoste), Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier), Ammonia (Oulaya Amamra) and Mercury (Jean-Pascal Zadi), who fight rubber-suited monsters. After struggling with one such monster they are sent on a group retreat for team cohesion, their puppet rat boss criticising them for their lack of teamwork.
Dupieux continually throws left turns and non-sequiturs at the viewer. What starts as a send-up of Saturday morning kids’ TV serials of the 90s quickly threatens to shift gears into a horror-comedy anthology, before ducking out of that decision also. It’s as refreshingly chaotic as any of Dupieux's previous works, and arguably even more so. Here, as soon as he picks up one idea, he loses interest in it, leaving yarns of unspooled narrative threads left, right and centre, thumbing his nose at the modern requirement that every piece of lore in fantasy fiction be explored.
Underneath that madness, there is method. Conjoining all the asides, including one starring Adèle Exarchopolous revolving around a “thinking helmet” that sends its wearer crazy, is a thread about modern technology wearing away at our logic, rendering human beings unable to make rational decisions. None of the inventions or innovations in Smoking Causes Coughing – including ones which are very much real and not sci-fi – are of any help to anybody. But instead of a morose, Black Mirror-esque tone, Dupieux opts for a Dadaist, pop art aesthetic, the landscape and backgrounds overlit and performances always the right side of hammy.
Dupieux’s films often seem throwaway, fluffy and entertaining. Certainly, they are entertaining, but beyond the goofing around is a sharp-minded social satirist who knows how to package complex ideas in simple formats. In his fast-flowing output and seeming creative freedom, he points the way to a healthier film industry, where instead of being lost to script development hell, workshop-itis, and an endless cycle of pitching for funding grants, an inventive filmmaker can step up to the plate as frequently as they wish. Dupieux’s next film is already in post-production and set to be ready this year: Smoking Causes Coughing is evidence exactly of what happens when you allow a filmmaker to relax and become energised by their creativity.
Smoking Causes Coughing is released in UK cinemas on 7 July.Where to watch