Quentin DupieuxStephen SpinellaWings HauserRoxane Mesquida
Medium: film
Year: 2010
Writer/director: Quentin Dupieux
Keywords: low-budget
Language: English
Country: France, Angola
Actor: Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser, Roxane Mesquida
Format: 85 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1612774/
Website category: Other
Review date: 28 November 2011
Weirder than you'd expect, even for a movie about an angry psychic tyre called Robert that rolls around the Californian desert making people's heads explode.
This must sound like an exploitation film, but it isn't. This seems to have upset lots of people, who'd been expecting a schlocky gore-fest and instead got an absurdist art film on the nature of cinema and storytelling... but one that's starring a psychic killer tyre. To quote Dupieux:
"I think I have one obsession: it's to create this special tone, which is half-really-stupid and half-smart. I'm always trying. I have two scripts written now, and it's always the same. I'm trying to do this strange mixture between... because usually you go watch a movie, and it says, "You're going to have fun!" or "You're going to be sad!" or "You're going to be scared!" I'm just trying to mix two things together because I think there's something cool about it. I don't want to be just funny or just smart; I like being between. I think that's why Rubber is more interesting than just a tyre movie."
There are effectively two films here, the inner one about Robert and the outer one which breaks the fourth wall and is addressing the nature of movies. I'll start with the tyre.
The tyre is the reason you're watching, of course. Yes, it's ridiculous. Dupieux has deliberately chosen something that can't be anthropomorphised and is, visually, dead. It's black, round and made of rubber. It rolls. It's a tyre. He didn't even use CGI, instead using a real tyre that they'd roll out in front of the cameras or be waggled by an off-screen human. They also had a radio-controlled tyre that could stop rolling on cue, but technologically that was it.
However it's also rather clever and well shot. I've seen comparisons of the first twenty minutes with WALL-E and I agree with them. Dupieux gives his tyre a personality. It gets up and explores its world. It discovers that it can crush things. It likes this. Destruction is fun. On finding something that it can't crush (a glass bottle), it starts suddering with explosive psychic energy and so discovers a new weapon. The next step is serial killing. All this is surprisingly well done, assuming that you're willing to empathise with a tyre. Later we discover that the tyre likes stalking hot French babes and watching television, which I can't argue with. This is wonderful. I think everyone who's seen this film loved Robert the tyre, even if they hated everything else in the movie and thought it would have been better as a ten-minute short.
The outer movie though is weird enough to be almost off-putting, but in a different way from the weirdness of Robert. I don't think it quite holds together, but that's almost the point in an absurdist film like this.
We begin with a pre-credits sequence that's flat-out brilliant in its pointlessness. Why the chairs? Why so carefully drive along and knock them all over? Why is that cop in the car's boot? Why the glass of water? None of it makes the slightest lick of sense and that's deliberate, as is duly explained by the cop (Stephen Spinella) in a long and clumsily delivered speech to camera about why movies are full of things with no point. I couldn't believe what I was watching. This is easily the movie's best scene.
What follows next goes beyond any normal definition of "breaking the fourth wall". This movie's audience is also part of the movie. They're standing out in the desert with binoculars, commenting on the action like a Greek chorus. This is annoying, although things improve a lot when they start becoming part of their environment and we get into the issue of the filmmakers' relationship with them. If you didn't have an audience, you'd have no reason to exist. You could just go home and put your feet up. There's a lot of intriguing stuff here, some of which pushes the boundary even by absurdist standards, but I think it would have worked better as a stage play. Being physically in the space with the actors creates a relationship with the audience that you can't do in a movie. Here I knew nothing and cared less about these gawping loudmouths in the desert and it would have taken a Herculean leap of imagination to see them as surrogates for myself.
This material could have been great in a theatre, except of course that it's impossible because of the tyre. That's pure cinema, patient and wordless.
The auto-commentary of the outer movie goes so far that it's arguably interesting even if you don't like it, just to see how far Dupieux pushes it. It's proposing a kind of Schrodinger's movie, in which characters might stop being characters if they're not being observed. When there's a plot development so illogical that it's silly even in this absurdist movie, an audience member complains about it to the cast. (He ignores my immediate objection though, which is to ask why our heroes aren't detonating their explosives themselves instead of waiting for Robert to hoist himself on his own petard.)
Overall, a marvel. Whether or not you like it, no one's going to say that it's not explosively original. Lots of people think it's boring, which is understandable. It would be easy to get sucked in by the easy-to-sell stuff everyone knows about (Robert the tyre) and then feel you've been ambushed by a lot of arty French bollocks. Some people love it. Me, I think it's admirable, but I'd need to see it again to get fully on board with it. I think I'm a fan, though. It's perhaps a bit too spiky and indigestible for a comfortable first viewing... but is that necessarily a bad thing? Besides, the fact that it's a quick cheapie was a deliberate choice from Dupieux, who's going for energy and successfully getting there. It's also well shot, well acted apart from the prologue and has special effects that almost dazzle in their crude effectiveness.
Oh, and it's short. That can't be a bad thing, right?