Saying Quentin Dupieux makes strange films might be the understatement of the century. From a murdering sentient tire in Rubber to a crime-convincing jacket in Deerskin or two numbskulls capturing a giant fly in Mandibles, if you’ve ever seen a film by the French director, you know you have to embrace the weird coming your way. Incredible But True (Incroyable mais vrai), Dupieux’s latest, is probably the most easily graspable story I’ve seen from the absurdist storyteller, highlighting a couple moving into a house with a quirky selling point.
Alain (Alain Chabat) and Marie (Léa Drucker) are a happy older couple buying their first home late in life. Finding their dream house, they’re informed by the vague words of their sneaky realtor, Franck (Stéphane Pezerat), that it comes complete with a life-changing supernatural hatch in the basement. Like anyone would be, the couple is resistant to crawling through the manhole, certain they’ll emerge in a dank sewer or some dingy bunker. Deciding to go with Franck anyway, they all emerge from a ladder on the home’s second level as if they’ve entered an M.C. Escher painting and told about its further enchanting benefits.
At this moment, you’re probably asking yourself how on Earth this wild piece of cinema is the most graspable concept Dupieux has ever done. Well, if you’ve never seen one of his films, they are anything but what they appear to be on the surface. Like most works of absurdity, there is obvious subtext and implied concepts. In this case, it’s a COVID-inspired fable absent of the virus. Incredible But True combines themes of time travel, psychosis, and the virulent inability to spend time together. Marie finds solace in the cellar portal like the characters of Being John Malkovich began to find themselves through that one, until one day they’re changed. Marie devotes all of her time to the hole in the basement, unable to stay still and appreciate what’s in front of her the way many anxiously dedicated themselves to tasks to burn off their nervous energy during the pandemic while their mental state deteriorated. For Alain, he begins seeing someone unrecognizable.
Madness, vanity, and obsession are some of the other themes of Incredible But True, which relies on these horror concepts and psychological fears of the last few years to tell a unique dark comedy. Seeing the film through Alain’s eyes, who has a relatively laidback attitude about the whole situation, adds some grounded perspective to the whole situation, which is further met by the ridiculousness of his boss Gérard’s (Benoît Magimel) news of body augmentation. While Alain doesn’t feel one way or another about Gérard’s implanted “device,” Gérard can’t help but feel insecure after telling him, imposing a sense of inadequacy stilted by the fragility of the male ego that can only be cured with manly activity, leading to further devastation and humorous calamity.
While you may be able to guess some of what I’m alluding to in Incredible But True’s synopsis, I think the film’s charm lies in not knowing and allowing you to be surprised and amused by its comedic intent. Much of the humor is marvelously deadpan and eccentric, busting with wit and charisma that keeps the audience entertained for its brisk seventy-five-minute runtime. My main criticism of the film comes in its flimsy roll-off ending. For a movie that maintains Alain’s take-life-as-it-comes philosophy, it steamrolls the lives of the characters we follow by fast-forwarding a portion of the film. The enjoyable build-up never moves into the all-out farce the audience expects, instead replaced by a cliff notes climax. While there are still some highlights and surprises, it just doesn’t altogether fit the ultimate message of Depieux’s film. Regardless, it doesn’t kill the luster of the film, but it does garner some disappointment.
Incredible But True’s cartoonish premise of time-altering rabbit holes may seem like Looney Tunes, but it never leans into a complete spoof no matter how fantastic its idea. Dupieux’s faith is placed in the hands of this talented cast, who are simply wonderful to watch. Chabat has been floating between the French and Hollywood cinema scenes for nearly forty years, most notable to most moviegoers as the Bob the Pirate character from Luc Besson’s international space epic Valerian: and the City of a Thousand Planets. While his character, Alain, is probably the least personality-driven character in Incredible But True, he is the glue that holds the entire production together. Drucker, Magimel, and Anaïs Demoustier, who plays Gérard’s girlfriend, all get to go a little nutty, spiraling in and out of manias brought on by impulsively made decisions. Dupieux conducts this orchestra of lunacy with the precision timing of an opera, and the collaborative effort works seamlessly.
A film like this reminds us how precious a moment is, even if it’s a moment that simultaneously feels both fleeting and like it’s taking forever. Living in this era of pandemics, technology, and narcissism may not always be ideal, but Depieux reminds us to take it all in for the unbelievable circus that it is. We all have some Incredible But True stories, and I’m sure we incurred a few unexpected tales during the pandemic.
Incredible But True played as part of Arrow Video Fright Fest in the UK on 28 August. Arrow will release the film on 8 November in the UK and US on a special edition Blu-Ray disc.