August 1, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Quentin Dupieux
French with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed locations in France, the comedy film “Mandibles” features an all-white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two dimwitted best friends, who unexpectedly come into the possession of a giant fly, plan to train the fly to steal things for them, but they encounter some obstacles and distractions along the way.
Culture Audience: “Mandibles” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching offbeat European movies about strange people in bizarre situations.
What would you do if you found a fly that’s the size of a medium-sized dog inside of a car trunk? if you’re dimwitted best friends Manu (played by Grégoire Ludig) and Jean-Gab (played David Marsais), you immediately decide you’re going to train the fly to steal things for you, so the fly can be like a drone at your command. Do things go as planned? Of course not, because there would be no “Mandibles” movie if they did.
“Mandibles,” written and directed by Quentin Dupieux, is another one of his absurdist comedies with oddball characters in France who commit crimes in their quest for some kind of greatness. In the case of Manu, who is homeless and living on a beach because he’s been evicted from his most recent residence, his immediate goal is to make €500. An acquaintance of Manu’s named Raimondo (played by Raphaël Quenard) has told Manu that he’ll get the money if he transports a suitcase to someone named Michel Michel (played by Philippe Dusseau), on one condition: Manu cannot open the suitcase.
It all sounds very suspicious, but Manu needs the money, so he accepts the offer. Manu steals a car to complete the task. The car radio is missing, but he’ll soon find out that’s not the most unusual thing about the car. Manu drives to Jean-Gab’s house to enlist his help and have some company to drop off this mysterious suitcase. Jean-Gab is the more sensible, less impulsive friend of this duo, but that’s not saying much because both have a habit of making stupid decisions.
On the way to Michel Michel’s place, Manu and Jean-Gab hear thumping noises in the car trunk. They open the trunk to see a giant fly that’s about the size of a medium-sized dog. At first, the two pals are freaked out by the sight of this fly, which shows signs that it has above-average intelligence. But Jean-Gab quickly comes up with a scheme to train the fly to rob banks for them and commit other thefts, such as stealing food. They find ways to keep the fly in captivity, such as duct taping it to furniture, using a makeshift leash or wrapping it in a blanket.
What follows is a strange and cheekily comedic misadventure where Manu, Jean-Gab and the fly end up taking a few detours on the way to delivering the suitcase to Michel Michel. “Mandibles” has the usual array of memorably eccentric characters that Dupieux puts in his films. However, what’s disappointing about “Mandibles” is that the fly isn’t in the movie as much as viewers might think it is, based on how heavily this movie’s marketing materials make the fly look like it’s the centerpiece of the story.
Manu and Jean-Gab actually spend most of the story trying to hide the fly. The majority of the movie is about the people whom Manu and Jean-Gab encounter along the way and the weird predicaments that these two moronic friends create for themselves. Some of these scenes work better than others.
For example, soon after discovering the fly, Manu and Jean-Gab drive to a remote area to train the fly, which Jean-Gab eventually names Dominique. They see a camper in this area and decide it would be the perfect place to sleep for a few days during this training. (The task to deliver the suitcase becomes less of a priority.) However, an elderly man named Gilles (played by Bruno Lochet) lives in the camper, and he’s not about to give up his residence so easily to these intruders.
Manu and Jean-Gab then find themselves invited to an upscale home by a woman who’s close to their age named Cécile (played by India Hair), who sees them by chance when they’re driving on the same road together. Cécile is convinced that Manu is someone named Frédéric Breton, who was a classmate she dated briefly when they were in high school together. When Manu sees that he and Jean-Gab will get to stay and party in this nice house that has a swimming pool, they do nothing to correct this mistaken identity.
Cécile lives in the house with her sister Agnès (played by Adèle Exarchopoulos) and their brother Serge (played by Roméo Elvis), while Cécile’s friend Sandrine (played by Coralie Russier) is visiting. Lots of alcohol drinking ensues, and Serge makes a pass at Sandrine, which she rejects. Agnès has brain damage from a skiing accident, so she talks too loudly and sometimes says inappropriate things.
The way the Agnès character is put in the movie can initially come across as mean-spirited to disabled people because Agnès seems to be the butt of the jokes. However, it soon becomes obvious that Agnès is the smartest person in the house. She’s the first to suspect that Manu isn’t the person whom Cécile thinks he is.
Agnès also figures out quickly that Manu and Jean-Gab have secretly brought an animal with them, but at first she thinks it’s a dog. When she finds out the truth, it’s one of the funniest scenes in the movie. (And it’s not spoiler information because it’s in the movie’s trailer.)
None of the movie’s characters has much depth because Dupieux’s films are about poking fun at ridiculous situations rather than giving characters complex personalities or fascinating backstories. And because Manu and Jean-Gab are written as simple-minded buffoons, the actors portraying them don’t have to show much emotional range. “Mandibles” is like an artsier French version of “Dumb and Dumber,” but with a giant fly.
Luckily, Dupieux seems to know that his movie characters can be insufferable if they wear out their welcome on screen. Therefore, “Mandibles” is only 77 minutes long. It’s not Dupieux’s best work, but there are enough laughs and head-shaking moments to make “Mandibles” an entertaining jaunt into weirdosville.
Magnet Releasing released “Mandibles” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 23, 2021.