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.

Review: ‘Deerskin,’ starring Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel

August 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jean Dujardin in “Deerskin” (Photo courtesy of Greenwch Entertainment)


Directed by Quentin Dupieux

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed locations in France, the dark comedy “Deerskin” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man who’s temporarily homeless buys a deerskin jacket and invents a filmmaker persona for himself, resulting in some bizarre and unexpected experiences.

Culture Audience: “Deerskin” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching quirky European movies that blur the lines between slapstick and satire.

Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel in “Deerskin” (Photo courtesy of Greenwch Entertainment)

French writer/director Quentin Dupieux continues his brand of offbeat filmmaking with the dark comedy “Deerskin,” which is a biting social commentary on the extremes that some people will take in order to feel important. On another level, “Deerskin” is a portrait of a man driven insane by loneliness. The movie is also a depiction of how life-changing moments can happen at the most absurd and most unexpected times.

In “Deerskin,” the protagonist is Georges (played by Jean Dujardin, who won an Oscar for the 2011 silent film “The Artist”), a middle-aged man traveling alone by car. Viewers later find out that Georges is temporarily homeless because, at his unnamed wife’s request or demand, he has left home and she doesn’t want him to come back anytime soon. Georges’ wife is never shown on screen, although she is briefly heard on the phone when Georges calls her during his aimless road trip.

During their short conversation, Georges asks her if she wants to know where he is. She coldly says no and adds, “You don’t exist.” The movie never reveals what caused this marital breakdown. However, it soon becomes obvious that Georges feels very alone in this world. And that loneliness isn’t exactly helping his mental health.

In the very beginning of the movie, George stops to get gas and uses a public restroom. And it’s the first indication that he’s got some mental problems, because he takes off his jacket, stuffs it into the toilet, and then flushes the toilet. The jacket is too big to be flushed, so Georges leaves the restroom with water overflowing from the toilet.

Where is Georges going? He stops off at a stranger’s house because he’s there to answer an ad about an item for sale. The friendly elderly man who answers the door is named Mr. B (played by Albert Delpy), and he’s eager to show Georges the item that he wants to sell. It’s a brown, fringed deerskin jacket that Mr. B says he hasn’t worn for years, ever since it went out of style.

“Here’s the beast,” Mr. B. tells Georges, who immediately loves the jacket, even though it’s too small for him. Mr. B. mentions that everything about the jacket is still intact from when he first got it, except the jacket no longer has the “Made in Italy” tag. Georges pays €7,500 in cash to Mr. B for the jacket. And even though it’s €200 less than the asking price, Mr. B is happy with the sale.

And he does something unexpected: He gives Georges a digital video recorder as a bonus item in this sale. After Georges buys the jacket, he needs to find a place to stay since he’s no longer welcome in his home.

Georges checks into a small inn, where he tells the receptionist (played by Laurent Nicolas) that he plans to stay for one month. However, there’s a problem: Georges has some banking problems that won’t be cleared up until the next day, so he can’t pay by credit card. As a solution, the receptionist agrees to Georges offer to temporarily take Georges’ gold wedding band as a guarantee of payment.

When Georges gets settled into his room, he admires himself in his recently purchased deerskin jacket and remarks to himself that the deerskin jacket gives him “killer style,” which is a phrase that’s mentioned repeatedly throughout the movie. There’s a double meaning for this phrase as the story gets darker and weirder. Georges is so enamored with himself in this jacket that he wears it whenever when he’s out in public.

The jacket seems to have given Georges some newfound confidence. When he walks into the a nearly deserted bar that’s within walking distance of the inn, he sits by himself, but it doesn’t take long for him to strike up a conversation with the only other people in the bar: a bartender in her 20s named Denise (played by Adèle Haenel) and an unnamed middle-aged female customer (played by Marie Bunel), who is sitting near Denise at the counter.

Georges, who is several feet away at the same counter, asks the women if they’ve been admiring his jacket. They give him a puzzled look and say no. The female customer remarks to Georges that he’s obviously not a local. Georges admits he’s not from the area, but then lies and says that he’s a filmmaker and he’s in town because he’s directing a movie.

After Georges leaves the bar and is walking back to the inn, the female customer drives near him and asks him if he wants a ride. Georges politely declines and says that he’d rather walk. The woman then says that if he needs any “bitches for his porn movie,” she’d be willing to offer her services because she said she did some porn about 20 years ago. “I’m still hot, right?” she asks Georges.

Georges is slightly offended and asks her why she thinks that he’s a porn filmmaker. She replies that it’s because he doesn’t look like someone who directs “real movies.” The conversation gets a little heated, she calls him a “loser,” and then she drives off in a huff.

This encounter seems to have triggered something in Georges, because when he goes back to his room at the inn, he starts having an imaginary conversation with his deerskin jacket while it’s hanging in the room. Georges provides the voice of the jacket while he speaks out loud to it. He makes small talk with the jacket, such asking where the jacket is from, and the jacket “replies” that it’s from Italy. And Georges films this conversation.

Georges is about to fall on hard times. He finds out from his bank that his wife has frozen all of their joint bank account, so he can’t get access to any of his money. He ends up scrounging for food in garbage cans because he spent all of his cash on the deerskin jacket. And he begins to talk out loud to the jacket as if it’s a real person. The jacket “talks back” to Georges and has a persona of being a confident motivator for Georges.

In desperation, Georges goes back to the bar to see if he can find a way to scrounge up some money. Denise the bartender is working, and Georges starts talking to her again. He tells her about the insulting porn proposition that the customer gave him the previous night. Denise says that she’s not surprised because the customer, who’s a regular patron of the bar, is a prostitute.

Georges continues to pretend that he’s a filmmaker, and he gives a fake sob story about how he’s been cut off from funds because the producers he’s working with are stuck in Siberia. Denise mentions that she’s an aspiring film editor. She tells Georges that for fun, she once edited “Pulp Fiction” to make all the scenes go in chronological order. Georges shows his ignorance in modern technology when he marvels at how Denise could do that kind of editing, and she asks him (with a skeptical look on her face) if he’s ever heard of digital editing.

However, Georges needs money, so he concocts a story that he will hire Denise on the spot to edit his movie if she can give him some advance money to help finish the project. It’s an obvious scam, and Denise finds it hard to believe that Georges doesn’t want to see any of her editing work before hiring her. However, Denise is so eager to get work in the film industry that she doesn’t hesitate to withdraw cash from her bank account, and she gives the money to Georges.

There’s a limit to how much cash she can withdraw per day, but it’s eventually shown how that problem is dealt with in the story. The movie takes another bizarre turn when Georges is alone with his jacket in his room and a mutual confession comes out that changes Georges’ purpose in life. The jacket “confesses” that it wants to be the only jacket in the world, while George confesses that he wants to be the only person in the world who owns a jacket.

What follows is Georges’ insane quest to steal as many jackets as possible and film it all. Denise is given much this footage to edit, and she thinks Georges’ movie is some kind of mockumentary. His ways of stealing jackets become increasingly maniacal.

One of Georges’ schemes to steal jackets is by enticing people into auditions for his “movie” and telling them to bring all the jackets they own to the “audition.” Once these unsuspecting victims arrive for the “audition,” they’re told that they have to act out a scene where they throw their jackets into Georges’ car trunk while saying this line: “I swear never to wear a jacket as long as I live!”

Georges films them during this “audition” and then drives off with the jackets. If anyone gives chase or tries to object, he tells them that he has them on video saying that they never want to wear a jacket again. But then, things start to get really violent and ugly.

What does Denise think about all of these dirty deeds? She thinks it’s hilarious, and she encourages Georges to go to even more extremes. It’s revealed at the end of the movie how much Denise might or might not have been fooled by Georges’ lies.

In the meantime, in true Dupieux style, the movie has several comedic moments that are meant to make viewers feel uncomfortable. For example, there’s a scene where Georges has to retrieve his gold wedding band, and it involves him having to suck the ring off of the finger of a dead person. It’s actually a lot funnier to watch than how it might be described.

Throughout the course of the story, Georges gets more brown deerskin clothing items (such as a cowboy hat, boots, trousers and gloves) that all happen to match his beloved deerskin jacket. As he accumulates each of these deerskin clothing items, he becomes more emboldened to do the heinous acts that he ends up doing in order to steal more jackets. His obsession with stealing jackets coincides with his obsession to film himself during these thefts, as well as film his imaginary conversations with the jacket.

At just 77 minutes long, “Deerskin” is a brisky and eccentric romp taken to over-the-top levels that would wear very thin if this movie had been stretched to more than 90 minutes. It can be left up to interpretation how much the jacket influenced Georges in a supernatural way, or how much of his madness had already been brewing and Georges used the jacket as an excuse to act in the way that he does. “Deerskin” is best enjoyed by adventurous viewers who don’t mind comedies that don’t give characters much of a past because what these characters do in the present is enough to defy explanation.

Greenwich Entertainment released “Deerskin” in the U.S. on digital and VOD on May 1, 2020. The movie, which was released in several other countries in 2019, is also available on HBO and HBO Max.

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