Fantasia 2010: RUBBER Review
A moment early on in Quentin Dupieux's delightfully absurd Rubber has the titular tire rising out of the primordial sands of the southwestern united states desert to ascend to some form of intelligence. There is no Also Sprach Zarathustra on the soundtrack, but the scene plays like a riff on the opening minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey (yes, seriously) especially when the 'moment of intelligence' turns to violence. Spinning bone to rolling vengeance, as cinemas first serial killing goodyear is set loose. But Rubber is no run-of-the-mill manufactured cult film. It is a treatise on why we watch films and why people (or at least the French) make films. The glib answer would be, "No Reason" and Rubber has an highly entertaining fashion to get that point across early. But ultimately it is a filmmaking challenge of a similar sort to Haneke's Funny Games. Only, uh, well, significantly more funny.
The opening scene is a deadpan surreal fourth wall break. The sort of gauntlet throwing I happen to admire in the films of Christopher Boe (Reconstruction, Allegro). And I believe that Rubber may break the fifth or even sixth wall, and if you will bear with me I will attempt to explain. There is an audience, and a greek chorus of sorts, within the movie that is watching the tire (his name is Robert) go on his journey of exploding wildlife (it is not just a sentient tire, but a psychokinetic sentient tire) and they comment on what exactly the 'show' is or could be. It brings to concept of how many people nitpick a movie while it is unspooling, and takes that to a whole new level. It first serves as a point of figuring out where the line of suspension of disbelief is going to be drawn. I know, you just wanted a splatter comedy featuring a rubber tire bursting heads and not a Godardian analysis of cinematic nuts and bolts. To bad for you (as evidenced by the fate of the audience within the film) as this is a film without conventional rules and all the better for it. You have to know the rules fairly well in order to break them in this spectacular a fashion. Forget the easy anthropomorphism of Wilson the Volleyball in Castaway or The Green Goblin truck in Maximum overdrive, Rubber steps beyond its own narrative of imposing morality or sentimentality onto a Michelin castoff well before the halfway mark. If a tree falls in the forest, or an audience walks out at a festival, will the film still generate buzz? Oh, Yes.
Impeccably shot, scored, and designed right down to the crisp clean Helvetica, Dupieux's visuals span the gamut of ominous and goofy, and occasionally a nod to the masters. A new take on Hitchcock's shower scene, the doorway framing from The Searchers, and the ominous evil reflected in mirrored aviator shades all re-appropriated handsomely. The police, on the serial killer case, and in particular the officer in charge (Steven Spinella) who can monologue with the best of them. Wings Hauser, the most wizened of the audience surrogates delivers the kind of measured character-actor performance one would expect within the type of B-movie rubber riffs on, not in one of the outer layers of the films russian nesting dolls, although things get satisfyingly messier as the film progresses.
Perhaps if there is one guilty hedge-on-the-bet in Rubber it is how its thesis is hammered home to the audience. Do the filmmakers trust its audience (not the binocular equipped bunch within the film, but the one looking at the screen) to be on board with their own inquiry? Remember, it is as auto-critical of itself as it is of its audience. Yet I am inclined to forgive the some times heavy handed approach because it actually seems to dovetail into the questions of a film. How much do you want to think? How much do you want to turn off your brain. Can you even turn off your brain? The film is intellectual wankery of the highest order in the sheepskin of a B-film of the lowest order (so stay alert!). Certainly my cup of tea, the movie is fucking magnificent, but your milage may vary.
[Screened at Fantasia as a part of the ambitious new Camera Lucida programme, my only complaint is that Guy Maddin's somewhat similar in spirit short film "Heart of the World" was not shown as an appetizer! And in case you are wondering, the tire did do a Q&A for the film as seen below:]
Around the Internet: