AFI Fest, Alain Chabat, Anais Demoustier, Benoite Chivot, Cannes Film Festival, comedy, David Marsais, Doria Tillier, Fantastic Fest, Ferdinand Canaud, film festivals, France, Gilles Lellouche, Jean-Pascal Zadi, movies, Olivier Afonso, Oulaya Amamra, Quentin Dupieux, reviews, sci-fi, science fiction, Smoking Causes Coughing, Tanguy Mercier, Vincent Lacoste
May 2, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Quentin Dupieux
French with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed cities in France, the sci-fi comedy film “Smoking Causes Coughing” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Five superheroes called the Tobacco Force, whose mission is to combat people who cause pollution from smoking, are sent on a team-building retreat while a lizard villain threatens to take over the world.
Culture Audience: “Smoking Causes Coughing” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching quirky European movies that blend societal observations with bizarre comedy.
“Smoking Causes Coughing” has some amusing satirical things to say about pollution and the concept of utopias. It’s not writer/director Quentin Dupieux’s best movie, and the ending is underwhelming, but most of the movie is entertaining to watch. Unlike his other films that have a overall cohesive narrative, “Smoking Causes Coughing” is more like a series of sketches compiled for a movie. “Smoking Causes Coughing” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and later played at other film festivals in 2022, including Fantastic Fest and AFI Fest.
“Smoking Causes Coughing” (which takes place in an unspecified future in unnamed cities in France) begins by showing a road trip being taken by an unnamed mother (played by Julia Faure), an unnamed father (played by David Marsais) and their teenage son Stéphane (played by Tanguy Mercier), who are passing by a remote desert-shrub area in their car. Stéphane wants to stop the car because he has spotted five “celebrities” he wants to meet: a group of “superheroes” named the Tobacco Force, who all dress in outfits that are similar to Power Rangers outfits, but in blue, white and gold.
When Stéphane and his parents stop the car, Stéphane runs closer to see the five members in this desert-shrub area. The members of the Tobacco Force have surrounded a giant mutant turtle called Tortusse (played by Olivier Afonso), who moves like a human, and are fighting this creature. Laser-like gas comes out of the Tobacco Forces’ fists until Tortusse explodes, with the body splatter flying in all directions, including on Stéphane and his parents. (Part of this scene is already shown in the trailer for “Smoking Causes Coughing.”)
This star-struck family is unfazed by being covered in gunky remains of an animal. They want to take photos with the Tobacco Force. All of the members willingly oblige and happily pose for pictures with these strangers who have gunk on their faces and clothes. And then this family gets back in the car and is not seen again for the rest of the movie.
The Tobacco Force’s five members, whose ages range from 20s to 40s, have a mission to save the world from pollution, specifically pollution from people smoking. They are also told there is a constant threat of villains trying to destroy the world. The villian who is their biggest threat is named Lizardin (played by Benoite Chivot), who is said to be much more dangerous than Tortusse. The Tobacco Force has a small robot sidekick named Norbert 500 (voiced by Ferdinand Canaud), who does all of the cleaning up after the Tobacco Force’s inevitable messes.
All of the members of the Tobacco Force are named after ingredients found in cigarettes. The oldest member of the Tobacco Force is Benzene (played by Gilles Lellouche), who acts as if he’s the leader of the group. Nicotine (played by Anaïs Demoustier) is flirtatious and bubbly. Ammonia (played by Oulaya Amamra) is sassy and assertive. Mercury (played by Jean-Pascal Zadi) is cautious and a married father of two underage children. Methanol (played by Vincent Lacoste) is the group’s quietest and youngest member. Benzene says that Methanol reminds Benzene of how Benzene used to be when he was Methanol’s age.
The Tobacco Force has to report to a boss named Chief Didier (voiced by Alain Chabat), who is usually just called Chief. This cranky boss looks like a human-sized rat and constantly has green ooze drooling from his mouth. The costumes in “Smoking Causes Coughing” are deliberately made to look like they’re from a tacky, low-budge sci-fi B-movie. For example, Tortusse’s costume looks like it’s ready to fall apart at any moment. Chief is obviously just a cheap-looking puppet.
A running joke in the movie is that Chief (who has a personality as slimy as the green ooze the drips from his mouth) is a ladies’ man who has no shortage of women in his bed. (He is seen with a different lover in every scene.) It’s the movie’s way of commenting on how power can be an aphrodisiac and can make someone look more attractive.
And not even Nicotine and Ammonia are immune to this attraction. Another running joke in the movie is that Nicotine and Ammonia both want to be the “favorite” employee of Chief and probably date him, but Nicotine and Ammonia don’t want to admit it to each other. Still, Nicotine and Ammonia sneakily try to find out what Chief says and does when he’s alone with the other woman. Nicotine and Ammonia also pretend not to be jealous when they see Chief with any of his girlfriends.
The Tobacco Force has been having some in-fighting recently, so Chief orders this quintet to go on a team-building retreat, which is also in a desert-shrub area. The best way to describe their living situation at this retreat is it looks like a high-tech camp. The group members are supposed to be by themselves at this retreat, but it should come as no surprise that they get some unexpected visitors.
A large part of “Smoking Causes Coughing” is about people sitting around a campfire and telling their scariest or most unusual stories. Benzene tells a story about two married couples—spouses Bruno (played by Jérôme Niel) and Agathe (played by Doria Tillier) and spouses Christophe (played by Grégoire Ludig) and Céline (played by Adèle Exarchopoulos) going on a camping trip together. Someone in this group of spouses gets alienated from the other three people, and choas ensues.
“Smoking Causes Coughing” has a total running time of about 80 minutes, which is a good-enough length, because this movie doesn’t have much of a plot. The performances of the cast members are mildly engaging but not particularly outstanding, People should not be fooled into thinking that the “superhero” costumes are indication that “Smoking Causes Coughing” is an adrenaline-packed action movie. This is a film that is for viewers who like seeing movies with unusual characters, eccentric comedy and the appeal of some very unexpected things happening.
Magnet Releasing released “Smoking Causes Coughing” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on March 31, 2023. The movie was released in France on November 30, 2022.