Smoking Causes Coughing

Year: 2022
Production Co: Chi-Fou-Mi Productions
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Writer: Quentin Dupieux
Cast: Gilles Lellouche, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Anaïs Demoustier, Vincent Lacoste, Oulaya Amamra

This absurdist comedy appears to be a metaphor for something but for what, I have no idea – maybe superhero movies, maybe action thrillers in general, maybe a little bit of gender relations, maybe just the expectation of a wholly rounded three act structure in cinema.

I came away thinking there must be a subtext Quentin Dupieux intended because everything on screen is so off the wall and goes so solidly against any convention you care to name it's almost too weird to exist. Maybe that's the point.

We meet the famous Tobacco Force when a holidaying family driving along a rural road in France pull over so their son can get out to relieve himself. Once installed at the edge of a ridge, he sees the famous fivesome in a ravine fighting their latest nemesis, some sort of turtle creature (a guy in a shoddy rubber suit) who wants to take over the world.

They defeat the monster by standing at points around it and blowing supercharged cigarette smoke to kill it, bits of bloodied meat thrown around like it's a slasher movie when it explodes.

And from that weird start, you'll only get more bemused. They call their boss back at headquarters from the Tobacco Force van – a rat-like creature depicted by a puppet – who tells them he's worried about the group's cohesion, sending them off for a retreat for a few days to bond.

So joker Benzene (Gilles Lellouche), Mercure (Jean-Pascal Zadi) – who looks like he's supposed to be a poorly made up clown in his fright wig and (naturally) misshapen teeth, Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier) – who's secretly in love with their rat creature boss, party boy Methanol (Vincent Lacoste), and Ammoniaque (Oulaya Amamra), all traipse off to a strange looking pod structure beside a river in the woods with their AI robot helper.

It's a doorway that leads down to a Kubrickian-looking hotel suite, complete with little sleeping rooms and a common room with a sliding door that leads to a woman who runs the supermarket behind it, providing anything they need.

Even weirder, all that stuff is just the framing device. At various times throughout the film (mostly while sitting around the campfire talking and bonding) the Tobacco Force, along with other people who come by like two parents who've come to retrieve their roving daughter, all tell stories we then see depicted.

One is about a quartet of friends who arrive at a rented house in the country for a holiday, one of the women finding a tin drum she puts on her head that gradually makes her lose interest in everyone else around her and ultimately develop a bloodlust to kill them all. One is told by a fish the Tobacco Force have caught for their dinner and are preparing to fry on the stove.

As the story (and the stories) unfold, we learn more about the group dynamics, and in another element of high comedy, they're more like a bunch of squabbling teenagers than a highly trained force of superheroes.

Nicotine is in love with their slobbering, rat-like boss, and when she sees another woman in the background during one of their video calls she's devastated, confiding in Ammoniaque. The latter talks her back from the ledge, asking her if she really wants to kiss the guy with all that slimy goop falling out of his mouth.

Nicotine finally sees sense and is seemingly cured of her obsession with him, and only then do we find out Ammoniaque wanted her out of the picture because she's in love with him too. Later we'll get the unique treat of seeing him lying in bed making out with some other woman.

Methanol, in his loneliness, tries to get talking to the lady who runs the store behind the sliding window, but she immediately shuts him down, assuming he's going to try to sleep with her. After lecturing the boy in the beginning that none of the team actually smoke because of how bad it is for you, the final sequence depicts them waiting for their new AI robot to boot up while sitting around casually smoking.

And while all that's going on, a powerful alien is setting about destroying Earth, just about the pull the trigger when he's called away to dinner with his wife and son. Yes, it's that strange.

It's funny but not hysterical, and while you'll never want to watch it again, you can't fault its inventiveness.

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