It was only two months ago that Quentin Dupieux’s previous absurdist adventure, Deerskin – about a man (Jean Dujardin) who became murderously obsessed with his deerskin jacket – was released in UK cinemas. And now we have Mandibles, which follows the down-and-out Manu and Jean-Gab (Grégoire Ludig and David Marais) who come across a giant fly in the boot of a car they have stolen, and plan to train it in order to make themselves a mountain of money.
It starts with promise. The terminally unscrupulous Manu and Jean-Gab aren’t the most sympathetic of leads, yet there’s a certain charm to their venal doofishness – think Bill and Ted, if Bill and Ted were a whole lot less loveable. Manu and Jean-Gab care for each other, even if they don’t care much about anyone else; early on in the film, they violently steal a caravan from an old man, just so they’ll have a place to train the fly. For a little while, they settle into an endearing odd coupledom – Jean-Gab does the training (he decides to call the fly Dominique), and Manu does the cooking.
Unfortunately, Manu’s cooking soon leads to the caravan burning down, and the men and the fly are left homeless again. That doesn’t last too long, however – they happen to stumble upon Cécile (India Hair), who is convinced she knows Manu from their schooldays. She doesn’t – it’s a case of mistaken identity – but when he realises that she is wealthy and happy for them to stay at her family home and eat their bounteous food for as long as they like, he decides not to correct her mistake.
This is where Mandibles starts to lose the plot. Also staying at Cécile’s house is her friend Agnès (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who shouts everything she says thanks to a traumatic brain injury. That this is played for laughs is quite dubious in the first place, but even if you can get on board with that particular type of humour, Dupieux definitely overplays the joke. Understandably, Manu and Jean-Gab had to smuggle in Dominque, and none of the other guests know they’re sharing their house with a giant fly, but Agnès is suspicious and – thanks to her injury – very loud about it. Again and again and again. Although this particular arc has a neat (if mean-spirited) ending, watching it play out is a drag.
It’s notable throughout how surprisingly few scenes there are that show Jean-Gab training Dominique, when that training was supposedly the film’s premise. Because these scenes are few and far between, far outnumbered by the awkward human comedy at Cécile’s house, there are large swathes of Mandibles which seem almost normal – not what you either want or expect from a Quentin Dupieux movie. Unlike with Deerskin, there’s only one real moment that could be described as gory, and there’s little tension. While some happenings might take you by surprise, more are predictable – the ending is a lot sweeter than the rest of the film, yet the final ‘twist’ is pretty obvious. Perhaps it’s just a case of over-saturation, but Mandibles certainly feels like one of Dupieux’s lesser efforts.