Review: ‘Smoking Causes Coughing,’ starring Gilles Lellouche, Vincent Lacoste, Anaïs Demoustier, Jean-Pascal Zadi and Oulaya Amamra

May 2, 2023

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Smoking Causes Coughing” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Smoking Causes Coughing”

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.

Oulaya Amamra, Vincent Lacoste, Anaïs Demoustier and Jean-Pascal Zadi in “Smoking Causes Coughing” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“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.

Review: ‘Mandibles,’ starring Grégoire Ludig and David Marsais, Adèle Exarchopoulos, India Hair, Roméo Elvis, Coralie Russier and Bruno Lochet

August 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

David Marsais and Grégoire Ludig in “Mandibles” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)


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.

A scene from “Mandibles” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

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.

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