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Reality

Year: 2014
Production Co: Realitism Films
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Writer: Quentin Dupieux
Cast: Alain Chabat, Jon Heder, Kyla Kennedy

There was an indie movie from the 90s with Steve Buscemi and Catherine Keener called Living in Oblivion, about the trials and tribulations of a small company making a film where the end of every chapter or section turns out to be someone dreaming about the effort to make the film. It rendered the entire film a dream of imagining, none of it actually really happening.

You'll wonder what the core story is here too, but I think the point is that there ins't one. Quentin Dupieux (Rubber) isn't interested in a story going from A to B and thence to C. He wants it to start at A with a little bit of R referenced, then go to C, which reveals A to have been a dream about a movie, then to K, containing a character that will be pivotal at point Z, then back to A to reveal it was a cypher to get someone to point M... you get the idea.

The tools, devices and characters who get us there are as weird as they are inventive. If there is a central story it seemed to be about a little girl named Reality (and I'm only guessing that because it's also the name of the film, perhaps rendering her most important of everyone) who lives in a cabin in the woods with her parents.

There's also a TV cooking show host (Jon Heder) in a ratty mouse costume who can't stop scratching and is convinced he has eczema, except on the inside. There's the doctor he visits later on who's openly hostile and is actually covered in eczema himself. Another major plot strand is about the cameraman on the cooking show, Jason (Alain Chabat), a wannabe director trying to get an idea for a movie off the ground with a French production executive.

He goes for a meeting in the executive's opulent house where they talk about the story – a horror tale where a signal pumped from every TV in the world changes people into crazed killers – and although the executive loves the idea, the detail he's most concerned with is the noise of the groan of pain victims will feel as the signal takes over them.

He gives Jason 48 hours to find or make up the perfect groan of pain for the movie and if he gets it right, he has a green light. It also sparks a series of dreamlike fantasies where Jason accepts the Academy Award for the best groan of pain for his work, including one where he's stuck to his chair and can't get up to go to the stage and accept it.

The production exec is also dealing with a prickly American documentary maker providing rushes of his first narrative feature, which may or may not be the story of Reality and her home life. They sit in a screening room watching endless minutes of footage of the little girl sleeping, the exec getting increasingly frustrated while the director exhorts him to be patient – maybe a stand-in for Dupieux himself.

Reality herself is on a quest too. After her father takes her boar hunting in the opening shot he's at home teaching her how to gut the animal when a bright blue VHS tape falls out of its insides, noticed only by her. Her father throws the offal out and no matter how much Reality protests the tape is real her parents constantly chide her, telling her wild pigs don't eat videotapes and making her more curious about how it came to be eaten by a wild pig and what's on it.

Then there's the middle aged Jewish man driving around town in an army jeep wearing a dress who later turns out to be Reality's teacher, Jason's therapist wife who insists on peace and quiet (and has been treating the man in the dress), Jason and his wife deciding to go the movies where he discovers to his horror that someone's already made the movie he's trying to get going and much more.

There's a distinct horror movie mood to the music, a pulsing, repetitive riff (actually Phillip Glass' Music With Changing Parts from the early 70s) that fades in and out amid the action, making you think something awful is going to happen. Nothing awful ever really does, but everything that happens is plenty weird.

It's definitely not for everybody and you might come away supremely frustrated that there was no story, just an endless procession of Gordian Knots looping back in on themselves. And I think that's exactly what Dupieux wanted. He came up with an eclectic group of characters and then stood in front of a huge whiteboard with pieces of string and pins figuring out how he could connect them all into something completely enclosed but the strands of which are narratively open ended at the same time.

Like the Ethan Hawke time travel thriller Predestination from the Spierig brothers, there's no real starting or ending point, just a cycle that repeats. The movie starts at an arbitrary point of a circuit already in motion, then off you go. It's easier to appreciate when you look back on how it was constructed after it's over, but while it's actually going on it's such a surreal, illogical jigsaw there's a good chance you'll be bored waiting for a point that never comes.

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