Quentin Dupieux makes minimalist films so marvelously asinine they would make Monty Python proud. Part surreal sketch comedy and part theatre of the absurd, Dupieux’s farcical two-hander “Keep An Eye Out” (shot and released in France in 2018) primarily takes place inside the confines of a brightly lit police station. Opening with an orchestral overture that finds its nearly-naked conductor getting cuffed by the cops, Dupieux’s clever exercise acts as an existential, stream of consciousness crisis in the guise of a 70s interrogation procedural. This odd, musical intro has seemingly naught to do with the movie that follows. Key word, seemingly.
Unfolding a bit like a Samuel Beckett play with repeated POV flashbacks that grow stranger and more surreal as the film goes on, “Keep An Eye Out” next introduces us to a Police Commissaire named Buron (Benoît Poelvoorde). He sits before a suspect named Louis Fugain (Grégoire Ludig) – a Fugazi who just wants to go home, but has all but been accused of murder by Buron, who insists they go over pedantic details of his official statement. Fugain earlier alerted authorities to a corpse outside his building. Surely, he can’t be the culprit/killer? Suspiciously though, he was also spotted going to and from his place 7 times that night, and Buron can’t let that go.
Petty distractions such as phone calls with family keep sidetracking Buron from the deposition; Fugain repeatedly asks if he can just come back another day, but the Commissaire won’t let the civilian out of his sight. After exiting the room to eat a hot dog dropped off by his son, Buron places Fugain under the watchful eye of naïve officer Phillipe (Marc Fraize), who only has one eye. Taking his watchdog duties far too seriously, the cop cyclops soon regales Fugain with the fact that he cheated on his exam to get his badge – a badge Phillipe is now incredibly proud to have, frantically fumbling around his desk drawers to show Fugain just how shiny it is. While bumbling about he trips over an open file cabinet and disaster ensues. Meanwhile, one of Buron’s colleagues offers him a leftover oyster (he ordered a dozen and doesn’t want the extra one to go to waste); he’s invited to watch “King Kong” but responds he doesn’t like “Chinese films.” This style of diverting humor is very much the film’s bread and butter.
It would be a crime to reveal certain other specific details “Keep An Eye Out” has in store for its audience, but it adroitly manages to sustain an escalation of the asinine for over an hour (Dupieux smartly knows this type of material is best kept short and sweet). Like his last film, “Deerskin” – a hilarious character study on self-absorbed narcissism – motives are aloof, absurd, and blown out of proportion, extrapolation and confirmation bias the moronic source of many an argument – arguments which eventually take place within the film’s own flashbacks (“Keep An Eye Out” is a movie a lot easier to watch than describe). While the script lacks the same focus as “Deerskin’s” one-man-play like idiocy (to be fair that’s also embedded into the over-analytical conceit), it pushes and pulls the viewer in so many repetitive conversational fencing matches that order eventually forms out of chaos.
Moronic in all the right ways, Poelvoorde and Ludig crush their respective roles – air-headed and agape when needed, overly semantical and always ready with an excuse most other moments. Despite the fact that the interview is being conducted so that both men might go home, savoring their stage-like back and forth becomes a joy to behold; so amusing, in fact, that you often forget about the dead body which brought our characters to the present moment. Planting seeds of misdirection in the script, many of the film’s gags play like skeleton’s in the closet; right when you think you’ve got the payoff figured out, the joke connects to a different sketch, often subverting the type of laugh one expects. By keeping the weird-ball babble ongoing, the flick’s metatextual elements refrain from tipping their hand.
A large part of the appeal of Dupieux’s films is watching grown men act like doofuses while waring a straight face; but characters don’t solely act stupid for the sake of being stupid, their self-centered attitudes reveal pathetic disparities about being human, disparities sitting in that unknown space between existence and truth – self-created facts and fictions built off illogic. Reframing one’s mental state in a healthy way is almost never a thing, conveying action(s) via distorted, subjective reasoning drives the tragicomic figures at the center of his worlds. Jean Dujardin’s character in “Deerskin” becomes a self-professed Lancelot – turning a ceiling fan blade into a righteous weapon – only, he’s actually slaughtering the citizens of an unnamed town like an extended version of ‘The Holy Grail’s’ gut-bellying wedding sequence, each murder shot through a DV cam. So solemn in their convictions that stubbornness turns plain silly before becoming sociopathic, Dupieux’s leading men stumble into mid-life crisis mode through trivial rituals and the rote nature of their day to day, so distracted by the mundane they find a sad sort of solace in the utterly absurd occurrences life throws their way.
“Keep An Eye Out” opens in real and virtual cinemas Friday, March 5th.