Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Quentin Dupieux's Most Disappointing Film Yet
Mandibles is a simple film about a slow-witted beach bum named Manu (Grégoire Ludig) that is hired to retrieve a briefcase from a man named Michel-Michel. Manu is instructed to retrieve the briefcase, put it in the trunk of a car, and deliver the car to a specific address. Upon completion, Manu will receive $500, but he’s not allowed to know what is in the briefcase. With the help of his friend Jean-Gab (David Marsais), Manu hot-wires a car and is on his way. However, Manu and Jean-Gab discover a dog-sized housefly in the trunk of the car and have the bright idea of training it to make them even more money.
The latest film from Quentin Dupieux, the French filmmaker behind other cinematic oddities such as Rubber and Deerskin, Mandibles isn’t really enough of anything to leave much of an impact. It isn’t funny enough to be a comedy and it isn’t dramatic enough to be a drama. It just exists as this weird excursion that doesn’t get as absurd as you’d like it to.
The highlight of the film is the fly, but it feels like you don’t see enough of her (Jean-Gab names her Dominique in the film). She mostly eats cat food, twitches from time to time, and snores in the backseat. She doesn’t really do any of the gross fly stuff you’d come to expect other than one sequence in the middle of the film. Dominique doesn’t do anything extraordinary, but she’s also kind of adorable given her tranquil behavior.
The main issue with the film is that it never really live up to its potential. Manu and Jean-Gab are idiots, but they’re not idiotic enough to be memorable. Mandibles is essentially Dude, Where’s My Car or Weekend at Bernie’s with no gags. Dupieux throws in a character named Agnes (Adèle Exarchopoulos); a young woman who has experienced brain damage and is now vocally challenged. This means that Agnes shouts all of her dialogue without the ability to control the volume of her voice. It’s an unusual quirk that is relied upon far more often than it should be. It wears out its welcome soon after Agnes’ first line of dialogue.
This is essentially a road trip film without any sort of destination. Even when Manu and Jean-Gab decide to rely on Dominique for financial success, the film throws in a detour. You’re given far too much of Manu and Jean-Gab’s antics and not enough of Dominique being an awesome giant fly. Manu and Jean-Gab are moochers that take anything that life throws their way. They have no idea where they’re going to make money or even where their next meal is going to come from. Manu sleeps in a sleeping bag on the beach and wakes up to the tide washing up against his feet every morning. The best thing the clueless duo has going for them is their, “Toro,” hand gesture and catch phrase. The gesture is made with their index finger and pinky to look like bull horns and they do this interlocking horny fist bump while saying, “Toro.”
Quentin Dupieux has always made strange films that usually can’t be categorized as anything other than bizarre. His filmmaking career seems to have culminated with Deerskin, which is his funniest and most coherent film to date. Mandibles feels like a withdrawn version of Dupieux though. There’s a giant fly, but we don’t see enough of her as we’re subjected to two morons trying to get a free pass on life. Its attempts at humor fall flat and it’s impossible to sympathize with or find any sort of entertaining qualities in any of the characters. Mandibles is really only going to be for hardcore fans of Dupieux’s other works. The average lifespan of a female house fly is 25 days, which is about three weeks longer than Mandibles will stay relevant in the public eye.
© 2021 Chris Sawin