For a long time Quentin Dupieux was best known as the man behind Flat Beat, the song that Levi’s picked to sell their jeans and which featured the adorable puppet Flat Eric, but since 2002 he’s been directing films with Nonfilm, Rubber, Wrong, Wrong Cops, and Reality being some of the strangest, most diverse movies you could imagine. I could understand why some might hate them, but if you enjoy cinema that makes you laugh while being crazily weird then you’ll be a huge fan of his work.
This latest effort (entitled At The Station for English speaking audiences) is a tight, lean 73 minutes and most of it is set in one location, the interrogation room at the police station where a man called Louis Fugain (Grégoire Ludig) is being asked to explain how he came across a dead body by policeman Buron (Benoît Poelvoorde) who suspects that Fugain might not be as innocent as he claims. Just to mix things up Buron has to leave at one point and asks fellow cop Phillipe (Marc Fraize) to keep an eye on him, but unfortunately for all involved soon Phillipe’s dead and though Fugain had nothing to do with his demise he panics and hides the body in a closet.
I’m not normally a fan of films which are mostly set in one room, they can feel claustrophobic and often drag as so little happens, but due to the incredible performances and the unusual nature of the film I was gripped throughout, and Dupieux keeps things fresh by showing us the events of the night Fugain found the body in flashback form. Even odder is that reality starts to bleed in to his memories, with Phillipe complaining about his demise, Phillipe’s wife Fiona (Anaïs Demoustier) turning up even though he’d only just met her in real life, and then Buron himself becomes part of proceedings.
It can’t be denied that Dupieux deliberately likes confusing his audience, the film starts with a man in only his underwear conducting an orchestra in a field before the police arrive and arrest him and that scene has nothing to do with the rest of the film, but it sets the tone and lets the audience know they’re in for an unusual ride, even if initially everything seems very routine. Despite the setting it’s inventively filmed, Dupieux has quite the eye for arresting imagery, and the dialogue (also by Dupieux) is beautifully written and he manages to take the mundane and make it hilarious, from when the Buron complains about how boring Fugain’s story is to the stories they tell where they claim they both know what it’s like to be truly hungry, while a discussion between Buron and his son where the latter casually confesses to briefly feeling suicidal is bizarrely amusing. And then towards the end just when you think you might have a grip on events the last ten minutes shake everything up and leave you with an ending that delighted but also left me perplexed, it’s something I love but I’m not sure I completely understand it, and it’ll definitely be a film I ponder a lot over the next few days.
The nature of reality and whether we can trust what appears to be happening is a major theme throughout Dupieux’s work and that definitely applies once again here, but what really makes this film shine is the absurdist dialogue, the impressive acting, the satire of cop movie tropes and the way it plays with ideas about the nature of storytelling and memory. Oh, and you’ll never hear the phrase “That’s why” again without being irritated, but you’ll also smile at the same time, which might be something of a paradox – but then that’s what this movie is too, and it’s also a large element of what it makes it so beautifully unique.