Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2015 7:45 pm 
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La vida es sueño y sueño de sueño?

Those not enamored of whimsy may not adore Quentin Dupieux's intricate but jokey dreams-within-dreams film. Perhaps it is needlessly clever, but clever it certainly is. As French critic Alexandre Lazerges says, it's also "puerile, but that's aways funny." It concerns Jason Tantra (Alain Chabat), a French expatriate living and working in Hollywood, who pitches a trite idea for an apocalyptic horror movie (TVs that dumb down the population and then kill them by emitting poisonous rays), and then goes nuts trying to find an Oscar-winning groan (gémissement) to satisfy Bob Marshall (French TV host Jonathan Lambert), his imperious and silly cigar-smoking potential Hollywood producer. He has 48 hours to find the perfect groan or Marshall won't produce his film.

Jason Tantra is third cameraman on a TV show about cooking featuring an emcee in a giant rat costume (Jon Heder) who has developed eczema all over his body, though it may be only his imagination, as an irate dermatologist tells him. Tantra has a grumpy wife, Alice (Élodie Bouchez), who's a shrink. Her irate client (Eric Wareheim) stomps out of his treatment session, distracted by Jason's experimental groans. He turns out to be the principal of the school attended by a little girl named Reality (Kyla Kennedy). In the dream he has described, he was driving a jeep dressed in women's clothes. Only he apparently does drive a jeep wearing women's clothes.

Some of these people begin dreaming, particularly Jason, who is sleepless in his frantic investigation of groans, and dozes off uncontrollably. All the while, rather maddeningly, the mood is intensified by background music from the first five minutes of Phillip Glass's "Music With Changing Parts" (appropriately from 1971), relentlessly repeated. And there is Zog (John Glover), a filmkaker-cameraman who is making a film (also produced by Bob Marshall) about a little girl called Reality who finds, or thinks she finds, a videotape inside a wild boar her father has killed. Ultimately, Jason appears to be part of Zog's film too. And he has either gone insane, or dreams that he has. But when Jason calls Bob Marshall, what he says is in a film Zog is projecting that is the videotape Reality has found, which also depicts herself. Dupieux' has constructed a jokey series of Russian dolls that are dreams-within-dreams and films-within-films that cannot ultimately be tracked down. The line between reality and fiction, dream and film, is never drawn; each is always slipping into the next. As Boyd van Hoeij puts it in Hollywood Reporte Dupieux "applies the logic of an M.C. Escher drawing to his tangle of stories."

Reality swims in a faded shallow-focus world of 1970's B-pictures. Most of what we see is pale and slightly retro, including the big boxy cars, the rotary dial telephones, and the TV equipment. But Dupieux isn't strict about this, leaving open the possibility that this is a contemporary fantasy. He has given us a surreal, dadaist film that Dali and Buñuel might have loved to make. And it also, a year after the death of Alain Resnais, continues his tradition of bright absurdity. Reality is a very smart and adept film, but also a contentedly silly and nonsensical one. Many of the French critics love it; it's not likely to play so well to Anglo audiences. Or to those not fond of whimsy. In its minute-to-minute action it is trivial. In its dull hi-def look and annoyingly repetitive sound it is un-beautiful. It is more in thinking about it afterwards that Reality becomes thought-provoking and unique. Maybe the French critics like it because in France the 1970's conceptual mindset still prevails whereby it is not so much the art work itself that matters as how eloquent the critic can wax in rapping about it. Hence the conceptual French film critics' premier voice Cahiers du Cinéma ranks Reality very high.

Dupieux is a cult director. A small group love his oeuvre. Others detest him. In the US, he is the stuff of late night screenings. Parisians can take him in the daytime. Directed, written, edited and filmed by Dupieux , Reality was originally to have been shot in France and Korea. But it turned out to be cheaper to shoot it in Los Angeles. A wealthy cinephile who liked the scenario lent his wonderful modernist mansion at a cheap rate for Bob Marshall's house. A modicum of English dialogue was blended in alternating with the French to make the California location not seem totally incongruous. But it is still incongruous. And that is quite appropriate.

Reality/Réalité, 102 mins., debuted at Venice 28 August 2014, showing at eight other festivals. French theatrical release 18 February 2015 to good reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.6). In the US, this film, screened for this review as the closing night presentation of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-UniFrance series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, is an IFC Midnight release. US theatrical release begins Friday, 1 May 2015, IFC Center NYC.

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