If there’s one thing to count on in filmmaker Quentin Dupieux’s work, it’s a certain degree of absurdity. The French filmmaker broke out in 2010 with Rubber about (and this is very true) a sentient tire that goes on a killing spree; 2019’s Deerskin, starring Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel, featured a fringed leather jacket that managed to control its wearer, for better or (usually) worse. Dupieux’s latest, Keep an Eye Out, is equally absurd as his previous work, if slightly less successful at cohesively building a narrative that stands up through all the silly twists and turns throughout.
Apparently filmed in 2018 (and released abroad that same year), Keep an Eye Out is only now finding its way to American audiences, and as entertaining as it is, some may find Dupieux’s insistence on keeping his audiences guessing more frustrating than fun. The absurdity hits right out of the gate, with opening credits playing over a man wearing nothing but red swim trunks conducting an orchestra in an open field. (There’s a sentence I never figured I’d write….) With police approaching, the orchestra stops and our conductor is apprehended; cut to the inside of a police station that looks like something out of a ’70s procedural, all tans and beiges, not a window in sight. Police chief Buron (Benoît Poelvoorde) begins his interrogation of Fugain (Grégoire Ludig), the prime suspect in the murder of a man Fugain found dead in a puddle of blood outside his apartment building.
Their exchange is at turns serious but also very clearly not, each of the men getting distracted and their conversation interrupted by a colleague, Philippe (Marc Fraize), who’s charged with watching Fugain while Buron has to step out momentarily. Here is where I typically check a film’s trailer to make sure that anything more I plan to share about the plot won’t be an inadvertent spoiler, except…well, take a look for yourself at the end of this post. I’ll wait.
Back? Great. Let’s proceed.
Buron’s interrogation of Fugain continues into the night, a process that ends up being far more eventful than that description makes it sound, from how Philippe plays into things to Fugain’s own meta-flashbacks where he meets Philippe’s wife (Anaïs Demoustier) but has to explain to her that he knows her even though he actually hasn’t met her yet…have I mentioned things get absurd? That Dupieux manages to keep it all coherent is quite impressive, and his ensemble is clearly having a ball with the material, too. Several moments in the film are genuinely funny, quick quips that land with sharp effectiveness, even as others leave one with a bit of a confused grimace.
And that, in the end, is the shortcoming of Keep an Eye Out. We know how well Dupieux can take a seemingly simple premise and create something both strange and strangely compelling out of it—we’ve seen him do it before. While Fugain’s interrogation certainly takes turns no one would see coming (seriously, I dare you to predict the final ten minutes of this film), the turns themselves seem to be more about the misdirect than any desire to underline a given theme or idea. If all you need out of your Dupieux (and yes, you do need some of his weirdness in your life) is to bounce around from goofy plot point to goofy plot point, you’ll find a lot to laugh along with here. And I suppose in the end, new, mediocre Dupieux is better than no Dupieux at all.
Keep an Eye Out is now streaming in virtual cinemas, including via Music Box Theatre.
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