NIGHTSTREAM20 REVIEW: Mandibules [Mandibles] [2020]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 77 minutes
    Release Date: December 2nd, 2020 (France)
    Studio: Gusto entertainment
    Director(s): Quentin Dupieux
    Writer(s): Quentin Dupieux

What’s in the suitcase?

Look no further than the fact Manu (Grégoire Ludig) was given the job to know how simple it was. While he’s a guy who shouldn’t be trusted to operate heavy machinery, tasking him with the no-questions-asked delivery of a suitcase shouldn’t be far-fetched—especially not when he’ll be given a decent payday for his trouble. Manu needs that money too. He’s lost his home and sleeps wrapped up in a blanket on the beach way too close to the water. Any little bit therefore helps and procuring this package gives him an excuse to steal a car he can then use as lodging after completion. Why does the case need to be delivered via a car trunk? Probably because everyone knows Manu would lose it otherwise.

He’s a character perfectly suited for writer/director Quentin Dupieux‘s surreally absurdist comedies of which Mandibules [Mandibles] might be the tightest (77-minutes) and silliest yet. And that’s without Manu even going so far as obtaining the case let alone trusting himself not to open it before dropping it off at its destination. He decides to swing by his best friend Jean Gab’s (David Marsais) family gas station first and recruit him as companion. Why merely complete the job as quickly as possible when a joyride with his equally daft buddy in this beat-up car seems so much more satisfying? It’s not like they planned to drive less than a mile before hearing noises from the trunk. They didn’t want to find the giant dog-sized fly locked inside.

That they do, however, completely changes their motivations. An easy hand-off with guaranteed payment is great and all, but what about rolling the dice on an idea with the potential to net them infinitely more? Where Manu sees this fly as troublesome (How can he put a suitcase in the trunk if a giant fly is in the way?), Jean Gab sees opportunity. He wonders if he can train this insect to be a thief and therefore help them commit robberies without ever getting out of their seats. Show it a photo of their target, remove the packing tape they’ve secured around its wings, and wait for it to return. Their tiny brains even believe it would work on banks as though the fly might demand vault access.

What follows is a road movie full of mishaps and dumb luck towards that goal. They’ll need to find a place to train their ward away from prying eyes. Maybe it will be a stranger’s (Bruno Lochet) RV or maybe it will be the vacation home of someone (India Hair) who thinks Manu is an old classmate of hers she hasn’t seen in years. As long as he doesn’t blow the place up while Jean Gab plies the fly with cat food as treats, they might be able to stay in one spot long enough to make progress. Hijinks will ensue, close calls will move them to the precipice of exposure, and Adèle Exarchopoulos‘ Agnes will scream in our ears due to an inability to modulate her voice.

It feels wrong to say much more since Mandibles proves pretty slight where plot is concerned. The paths Manu and Jean Gab take are thus a means for Dupieux to create dumb scenarios and dumber reactions in order to make certain the journey won’t end prematurely. Ludig and Marsais are extremely endearing despite their selfish disregard for anyone’s feelings, time, or charity thanks to their callous survivalist tendencies never becoming a byproduct of malice. They don’t want to hurt those they hurt. They just need to get them out of the way to fulfill their half-brained mission. So for every unicorn bicycle and unlucky dog left by the wayside is an earnest attempt at domesticating a creature they probably don’t realize will die in twenty-eight days or less.

And no matter how absurd things get, every frame unfolds with absolute sincerity. Agnes should be annoying (getting Exarchopoulos to simply yell with smug, holier-than-thou energy for twenty minutes of screen-time is a coup) and yet we laugh whenever she opens her mouth because the sheer stupidity of her character’s inclusion is legitimately funny. It helps that Manu and Jean Gab’s slack-jawed dim-wittedness keeps them as unsure of their next move as us because it means no one has any clue about what Dupieux has up his sleeve. So don’t even try to guess. Give yourself over to the ludicrous antics and revel in the nonsense two idiots caught in an once-in-a-lifetime ordeal provide. The only thing crazier than their impulses is ultimately discovering they’re sometimes inexplicably correct.

courtesy of Nightstream

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