Quentin Dupieux is unstoppable. Not only is he finding proper funding for his films these days, but he is also able to make them at a steady pace. Smoking Causes Coughing [Fumer Fait Tousser] is the latest addition to his oeuvre, and while somewhat different from the feature he made previously, it's very much a Dupieux film, in the sense that nobody else would've been capable to come up with such a project. It's no surprise then that I ended up loving his latest baby, as he has proven himself one of the more consistent directors in recent times.
Dupieux's oeuvre is best summarized by the ever-repeating catchphrase of Rubber, his breakthrough film: "no reason". It's something to remember while watching Smoking Causes Coughing, because the coherence here is even lower than usual, with several segments acting more like standalone short films. It suits Dupieux's style and even adds to the absurdity of the whole, where the randomness in any particular moment is way more important than any overarching theme or plot. If you can deal with that, then this is one hell of a ride.
While the big selling point is the riff on the Tokusatsu niche (think Power Rangers and the like), it actually represents only a relatively small part of Smoking Causes Coughing, with the five heroes spending some well-earned off-time together, telling each other punchy urban legends that are completely unrelated to the Tokusatsu stuff. It's an odd setup that does feel overwhelmingly random at times, but the stories are pretty hilarious and as Dupieux keeps piling on the absurdities with each new segment, it's difficult not to fall for the charms of this film.
Five powerful heroes, each representing one of the killer ingredients of cigarettes, form a band of unstoppable superheroes who spend their time protecting the Earth from foreign invaders and complete annihilation. Though the five work well together, the leader (a rat-like figure) feels the team spirit is slowly starting to crumble. In preparation for a crucial encounter, he sends his crew on a little holiday retreat, hoping to restore the group dynamic. With nothing on their hands, they spend their time telling each other creepy and outrageous stories.
Visually the film is on par with other Dupieux projects. Personally, I'd love it if he'd put a bit more effort into the aesthetics of his films, but it's undeniable that the often dry registration, cheesy/outdated designs, and bright colors add a visual flair that benefits the comedy, giving it that little extra edge. The Tokusatsu elements are properly realized, the visual gags don't come off as lazy or cheap and the understated camera work provides a nice contrast with the often zany action happening on screen. There's intent and purpose behind the visuals, which is always a plus.
The soundtrack is very much in line with other Dupieux films. It fits the brief perfectly, it is smart and adds to the comedy, but it never quite reaches its full potential. As daring as Dupieux is in other areas of production, his scores always seem to be a little on the safe side. Which is odd for someone who made a name for himself doing music. It's really just a minor complaint and I might not even have mentioned it if it had been any other director, but because this is probably the area where I'd expect him to truly shine, it is something that keeps bugging me whenever I watch one of his films.
People who still don't believe Dupieux made it as a serious director should look no further than the casts of Smoking Causes Coughing. With respected actors like Benoit Poelvoorde, Adèle Exarchopoulos, and Grégoire Ludig occupying smaller parts, it's obvious that he needn't worry about getting the right person for the job. The principal cast is very solid too, with stand-out roles for Demoustier and Zadi, who give their characters that extra comedic edge. It's pretty cool that Dupieux always manages to get his cast to act in the way the film calls for, which isn't all that obvious for the type of comedy he likes to make.
The intro is straight-up Tokusatsu cheese, with a man-sized rubber monster and silly superpowers. The Splinter-like rat character (TMNT flashbacks) is hilarious too. I'm glad Dupieux broadened the scope of the film after that first segment though, as I don't think he could've kept it amusing for the entire runtime. More adamant fans of the niche might be disappointed to see a more anthology-like continuation of the film, but Dupieux's work benefits from surprises and uncommon ideas, and once again he doesn't disappoint in the slightest.
At this point, people familiar with Dupieux should know what to expect. He is smart to reinvent himself with every film, but always within the confines of the absurdist comedy that defines his work. The Tokusatsu angle is cool, the anthology structure is something new to Dupieux's work, other than that you can expect the dry delivery of wackiness that makes his films such a joy to watch. I keep wondering how much further Dupieux can stretch his streak, but with each new film, he seems to prove there really is no need for me to worry. For now at least.