Quentin Dupieux has made unique, strange movies about being a man since 2007, but his surreal indie comedy Mandibles marks his sweetest and most accessible film yet.
Manu (Grégoire Ludig) and Jean Gab (David Marsais) are affable losers with a penchant for low level crime. Imagine Bill and Ted if Rufus had never turned up in that Circle K parking lot. When Manu agrees to pick up a mysterious package for a friend, he drags Jean Gab from his dead end job and the pair set off on a road trip across Southern France. A strange discovery soon waylays them. See, Manu hotwired a car and the trunk holds a surprise: a giant fly. The pair decides to domesticate and train the fly in order to make their fortune.
It’s a ridiculous set-up that follows Dupieux’s cinematic tradition of each film essentially being an extended sketch. But it works exceedingly well here as not only a broad situational comedy but also a celebration of male friendship and sweet, ridiculous doofuses who just can’t seem to do anything right.
It’s hard not to compare Mandibles with classic US comedies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure or even Dumb and Dumber. But Dupieux’s film is visually arresting, filled with Southern France’s scorched hues and a palette of burnt desert tones that are frankly beautiful. It also melds the sweetness of the former with the basic foolish men set-up of the latter without the offensive or crass humor. In that way Mandibles also feels fresh. Because even though Manu and Jean Gab are objectively bad people—they steal, they take advantage of the kindness of strangers, and at one point they get a woman arrested to avoid taking responsibility for their lies—Dupieux and his actors imbue them with a hapless hilarity that is undeniably charming. Also, the absurdist nature of Dupieux’s storytelling means there are hardly real world stakes for their crimes.
Instead, this is a farcical buddy adventure of two ridiculous himbos, their friendship, and their new giant fly. Ludig and Marsais are a comedic power couple as they charmingly scam their way across the countryside. Their plans are terrible and their morals non-existent, but their friendship is real. It feels rare to see adult men who just clearly love each other on screen. And these two sell their platonic passion in every scene. Jean Gab unquestionably supports Manu in his attempt to smuggle strange goods across the country, while Manu immediately gives up that job to help his best bud train a giant fly. No matter what comes their way the single consistency is their love for each other.
Dupieux never even sets up the classic conflict that usually comes in comedies like these. In that way it most echoes the pure heart of Bill & Ted. The struggle is always one the pair faces together rather than being a conflict between them.
Just like its two misguided heroes, Mandibles takes an almost lackadaisical stance on story. Not in the sense that Dupieux or his cast are lacking in enthusiasm or love for the tale—that comes through in bucketloads—but in that the destination of the movie doesn’t matter. It’s a fluid and delightful road trip of little to no consequence to the key players.
This is the definition of an easy watch. Though it’s filled with smart writing, entertaining characters, and an easygoing vibe that reflects the silly men at its center. Even when it leans into the awkwardness that comes with having two useless people at the core of your story, it’s in a way that feels kind and ultimately funny. Mandibles is an unexpectedly warmhearted crime fable about friendship, foolishness, and a giant fly.
Mandibles recently had its world premiere at Nightstream Fest.
Featured Image: Magnolia Pictures