‘After a fierce fight against a demonic turtle, five vigilantes called the ‘Tabac Force’ are ordered to retreat to strengthen the cohesion of their group which is deteriorating. The stay goes wonderfully until Lézardin, Emperor of Evil, decides to annihilate the planet. A ‘star wars’ reserved for the simple-minded? A Manichaean fable for small (and big) children still ready to be told? A funny tale, a burlesque mix of the banal and the extraordinary, flirting with horror and the fantastic, in the company of exterminating angels half-man half-beasts? With a little effort of the imagination, we recognize the unclassifiable universe and the devastating humor of Quentin Dupieux. Since “Nofilm” in its infancy”  until “Incredible but true”, the filmmaker, also a composer, screenwriter, director of photography and editor, clears an original path, without downtime or bravado, dynamiting codes and conventions, borrowing from all genres without stick to it. Even more than in previous films, “Smoking makes you cough” gets rid of the springs of a structured story to switch into a world that is both connected and surreal. A confusing and comical world where superheroes at rest prefer to tell horrible stories rather than move on to extraordinary murderous acts. But can the club of five continue to take it easy by laughing or scaring each other when the human species is threatened with extinction?
Five connected vigilantes, from brilliant actions to talkative fireside delirium
Here is the ‘Tabac Force’, in an almost deserted place, under a creamy sky, the five vigilantes in tight pale yellow and baby blue jumpsuits, slaying in an explosion of flesh and giant jets of blood an ‘Alien’ version turtle. The case folded, an admiring little boy asks to be photographed at their side, the opportunity for one of them to teach him a lesson on the harmful effects of tobacco. A day of routine quickly turned upside down, after cleaning their outfits sprayed with the blood of the beast by the small service robot equipped with a retractable penis-jet of water. The ‘Chef Didier’ (Alain Chabat, priceless giant stuffed animal in the shape of a talkative and drooling rat) in fact instructs his little troop of superheroes to take a week of ‘retirement’ in a remote place to consolidate their ties (‘ It is by being welded that you will be able to save the world’). An order transmitted by a small robot and intermediary devoid of emotion, but capable of committing suicide by drowning if its mission no longer makes sense.
In any case, the band of inseparable invincible warriors, composed (with a perfect cast for the whole troupe beyond these five) of Benzene (Gilles Lellouche), Methanol (Vincent Lacoste), Ammonia (Oulaya Amamra), Mercure (Jean-Pascal Zadi), Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier), are looking forward to these impromptu vacations on a rest basis.
After this shattering start, the superheroes, invested without any hindsight in their mission as saviors of the human race, split the armor and find themselves together, each in turn, telling other bizarre stories, which we see embodied on screen, like a film with sketches in which surrealism competes with fantasy and dark, even very dark humour.
Deluges of words from a worried humanity, half-angel, half-beast
Thus, over the course of stories, cruel tales and terrifying legends, our warriors at rest, they come across a dead fish grilling and which begins to speak, a robot candidate assumed suicide, a man whose body has been transformed into mush by a machine tool reduced to a basin with a speaking mouth. No gratuitous provocation in these disturbing representations. Some will criticize Quentin Dupieux for the ‘disjointed’ form of this fiction in underground correspondence with a form of terror that is said to be childish. A fear shared by the funny superheroes, like the Japanese Power Rangers or the Layette version of ‘Spider Men’, here confronted with a connected world whose seams crack everywhere. So much so that one of the heroines of the stories with drawers, placing on her head a ‘thinking helmet’ found in a rented house, begins to gamble on the aging of bodies, the inanity of the existence of others, all the while ending up this philosophical question: ‘And if the human species was an error of nature?’. The filmmaker is not the type to lecture us. In “Smoking Makes You Cough”, it is Lézardin, Emperor of Evil (Benoît Poelvoorde, dazzling appearance as a clone of the great villain of the first ‘James Bond’ and a giant plush toy with the head of a lizard) who claims to destroy the planet while a robot, programmed for a supposed savior return to the past, repeats at will: ‘Change of era in progress…’.
It is the same little robot, then laughing, with a shiny metallic envelope of a thousand loupiottes, who, after having listened to a disturbing story told by one of the narrators in a retirement seminar, affirms with conviction: ‘I found this story very entertaining’.
We are there and the fiction, in its hybridization with multiple imbrications, does not settle. Between the disguised observation of a threatened humanity and the ‘false airs of a parodic fable’ in the words of its author, between the spirit of seriousness and ‘frank fun’. As Quentin Dupieux mischievously points out, ‘Smoking makes you cough’ ‘is my film most seriously connected to the real world and I am the first to be surprised’. Let us be many to share such a surprise.
“Smoking makes you cough”, film by Quentin Dupieux – release on November 30, 2022
Official Selection, Out of Competition, Cannes Film Festival 2022
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Film of the week: “Smoking makes you cough” by Quentin Dupieux
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