Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
June 2011

Just because

That just about sums up the reasoning behind Quentin Dupieux's hilarious but overlong mix of surrealism, Western and satire

Magnet Releasing
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Screenplay: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser, Roxane Mesquida, Ethan Cohn, Charley Koontz and Robert
Rated R / 1 hour, 22 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

The absurdism of Rubber is as direct, and literal, as any you're likely to see. It is not simply presented in dramatic form, but stated directly to the audience - its intentions, and its purpose, or lack thereof. A police officer - or at least an actor playing a police officer - gets out of his car, faces the audience and offers a premature explanation for the movie we're about to see.

The movie we're about to see is about a rubber tire who goes on a bloodthirsty killing spree in the middle of the desert. Why is this writer-director Quentin Dupieux's subject matter? "No reason," the police officer explains. Like so many details of so many movies, the choice to make the film's vengeful killer a tire is, we are told, an arbitrary one. "No reason." Which, in a way, defines absurdism in a nutshell.

Rubber would have made for a fantastic short subject - there's material, humor and style enough for a 50-minute comedic/surrealist mini-masterpiece. As is, in its final 82-minute version, it is a good and at times spectacularly funny film that nonetheless seems to be straining to stretch itself into a full-length feature. It finds itself coming up with too many ways to repeat the points it has already made. Genuine cleverness like this is a pleasure to see, but even it can wear out its welcome after a time.

As Rubber overextends itself, I found myself wondering if it wasn't hedging its bets a little bit. Dupieux toys with the relationship between a film and its audience (expectation, reaction, etc.) - even going so far as to sarcastically suggest the disdain or outright contempt a film may feel toward its viewers. But eventually the point has been made and Rubber doesn't quite have anywhere else to go.

The narrative involving the tire, the killing spree, the residents of the town(s) he terrorizes and the authorities following its (his?) trail is regularly interrupted by the commentary of an audience viewing all of the proceedings through binoculars a short distance away.

It's like a Greek chorus, once removed. And yes, they chatter annoyingly during the movie and offer their unsolicited opinions on what they're watching. (Oh, Mr. Dupieux, you had me at "making fun of annoying people who talk during movies.")

By going too far with the deconstruction of the "no reason" premise, I think it diminishes the effect of some of the genuine, dry surrealism on display. The self-awareness, charming as it is, isn't held in check quite well enough - it doesn't always allow the absurdity of its driving "storyline" (such as it is) to take flight.

The problem, as I said, seems to stem from the fact that there's not quite enough for a full movie. This kind of deconstruction is familiar enough to us all by now; the rubber tire killing people with its, uh, mind (for lack of a better word) - that is something we haven't seen before.

There's something positively gleeful about the way Dupieux shoots the tire sequences, in a way ignoring the fact that the tire is in fact a tire - treating it instead like any other sociopathic killer transplanted into an old Western milieu. Consider it the Anton Chigurh for the Michelin set.

Every filmmaker who has successfully dealt with the absurd has at least one thing in common: a tremendous feel for comedy. I suppose that goes without saying. Comedy is indeed what Dupieux does best in Rubber. Sure, the premise and stylistic approach are very clever - but lots of people can do clever. Not everyone can do humor. Dupieux proves that he can.

The aforementioned preamble delivered by the police officer during the film's opening sequence features some of the funniest moments I've seen on screen in some time (with the film deliberately and hilariously missing its own point). To repeat a few of the truly great pieces of writing would be spoiling it, but suffice it to say that the references to JFK and The Pianist will never be forgotten by yours truly.

The sheer number of movies I've seen this year that I've already forgotten make the most memorable moments and images in Rubber all the more valuable.

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