Speaking of strange ambitions, cult filmmaker Quentin Dupieux returns with his latest, “Smoking Causes Coughing” (March 10 and 12). The results are bizarre and ramshackle even by his standards. The movie begins as a superhero spoof about The Tobacco Force—a group of heroes who combat threats against Earth by harnessing the deadly elements that go into cigarettes (though they claim to be against smoking). In this adventure, The Tobacco Force is sent on a retreat by their boss (a grotesque drooling rat that is nevertheless a hit with the ladies) to work on team bonding before battling a new upcoming threat. Once they arrive, the film shifts to them sharing weirdo horror stories (including one relayed by a fish as it’s being cooked) that take up much of the running time.
Like most of Dupieux’s films, its genre-busting attitude is certainly audacious, and there are some very funny moments here and there (the best of which is probably the second and shortest of the stories). However, as usual, he burns through his good and bad ideas so quickly that even at a brief 82 minutes, Dupieux runs out long before the end, leaving his cast—including the likes of Gilles Lellouche, Anais Demoustier, Vincent Lacoste, and Adele Exarchopoulos—looking vaguely bemused by the nonsense. Dupieux’s fans may indeed enjoy it, but “Smoking Causes Coughing” will no doubt leave others feeling more baffled than usual.
However, of all the films in this year’s lineup—excluding two that I did not get a chance to see, Florent Gouelou’s “Three Nights a Week” (March 11 and 12, with Gouelou present on the 11th) and Christophe Honore’s “Winter Boy” (March 9 and 11, with Honore appearing on the 11th)—my favorite by far is “The Five Devils” (March 4 and 8), the extraordinary second feature from writer/director Lea Mysius (who will introduce the screening on the 4th). On paper, the film sounds like an odd hybrid of “Petit Maman,” “Blue is the Warmest Color,” and “Perfume,” but it develops into something unique and fairly mesmerizing. “The Five Devils” tells of a young girl named Vicky (Sally Drame in a knockout debut performance) who has an extraordinarily developed sense of smell that allows her to reproduce the scent of anyone or anything she encounters and keep them in jars in her room. Meanwhile, her mother, Vicky (Exarchopoulos again), finds her relationship with her fireman husband (Moustapha Mbengue) growing increasingly rocky when his troubled sister (Swala Emati) returns to stay with them in the rural town where Vicky grew up and where their lives were linked by a past tragedy. How these storylines come together, I will leave for you to discover, but Mysius’ hypnotic and stylishly staged narrative will spin heads and break hearts in equal measure. A confirmation of Mysius’ undeniable directorial talents, “The Fire Devils” will surely be one of the year’s most captivating films.
For more information on screening times, tickets, and scheduled appearances, click here. The Rendez-Vous with French Cinema program runs at New York’s Walter Reade Theater from March 2-12.