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Review: ‘Mandibles,’ another absurdist wild ride from Quentin Dupieux

A really big bug sits on a bed in the movie "Mandibles.”
A large fly featured in the movie “Mandibles.”
(Magnet Releasing)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

For more than a decade now, French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux has been delighting and confounding art-house audiences around the world with movies like “Rubber,” “Wrong” and “Deerskin,” which have whimsically nonsensical plots that hover halfway between a weird dream and an old silent movie — one that even Dupieux only partly remembers.

Dupieux’s latest is “Mandibles,” a movie ostensibly about two dim-witted petty criminals and a giant housefly they find in the trunk of a stolen car. Whatever you think Dupieux might do with this premise, think again. What starts as a deadpan comedy with elements of grotesque surrealism soon becomes a shaggy tale about two doofuses freeloading off some clueless strangers at a vacation house.

David Marsais and Grégoire Ludig play the doofuses, Jean-Gab and Manu, who find a fly about the size of a dog while they’re picking up a few bucks working as couriers for a mob boss. The big bug — which they name Dominique — gives them an idea. What if they trained this critter to steal things for them? They’d be living on easy street!

Predictably, the plan goes awry, as they have trouble finding a place to stash Dominique. Unpredictably, the entire operation gets sidelined when a lady named Cécile (India Hair) sees Manu having car trouble, mistakes him for her old high school boyfriend, and invites him and Jean-Gab to crash at her place with her friends — including the brain-damaged Agnès (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who shouts every sentence at top volume and immediately suspects these new houseguests are up to no good.

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What does the Cécile detour have to do with teaching an enormous fly to be a thief? Almost nothing. As is Dupieux’s way, he follows his narrative trains of thought wherever they may lead. In the case of “Mandibles,” he’s also influenced by the laconic comic energy of Marsais and Ludig, whose Jean-Gab and Manu are like heavily stoned teenagers, easily distracted by food and unable to understand the simplest questions.

Dupieux’s style of comedy isn’t for everybody. But there’s a lightness to “Mandibles,” and a twisted internal logic that pays off with a brilliantly funny final scene. Maybe this picture is just a string of wacky ideas, with no deeper meaning. But for those who take the ride, it’s an hour and 17 minutes they’re unlikely to forget.

'Mandibles'

In French with subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes

Playing: Starts July 23, Landmark Nuart, West L.A.; also on VOD


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