Keep an Eye Out (Au poste!)

BY COREY KOEPPER

★★★★     (OUT OF 5)                                        
NOT RATED                 1H 13 MIN                    
2018      COMEDY      NOW STREAMING (AMAZON)
DIRECTOR: QUENTIN DUPIEUX

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Among the most common human experiences is to feel “on trial” for something, a typically grueling process, depending on our degree of wrongdoing.  Unsurprisingly, interrogation has become an onscreen cliché beyond the scope of police procedurals.  It’s an element cemented in our mainstream storytelling, something we expect to aid the audience’s judgment of seemingly guilty characters.

Leave it to Quentin Dupieux, the absurdist director behind such freewheeling, rule-breaking comedies like Rubber and Wrong, to giddily turn this concept on its head.  His hilarious police interrogation comedy Keep an Eye Out (Au poste!) ranks among the funniest films made by a man whose outlandish characters, including a psychic, murderous tire in Rubber, have literally blown minds.

Kicking off with the sight of an underwear-clad, mustached man conducting an open-air orchestra, the first of many bizarre, ludicrous moments we’re expected to take in stride, we’re then led to the French police station where the majority of our action takes place.  Benoît Poelvoorde, known in part for his charismatic serial killer in Man Bites Dog, plays the stony, dry humored Captain Buron.  For the majority of the film he interrogates Fugain (Grégorie Ludig), a witness who has discovered a corpse outside his apartment building.

Despite the rambling, inconclusive nature of the interrogation, rarely has Dupieux’s work felt as well paced and contained.  At a breezy 73 minutes, the sharp, witty dialogue is punctuated by hysterical moments of randomness, including an unexpected bodily orifice and an incorrectly eaten oyster (shell and all). Dupieux’s characters first raise an eyebrow at these events, but soon accept them like they’re nothing unusual.  Rarely do we actually leave the setting of the police station, and when we do, it’s mostly within Fugain’s memories of the night in question.

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What the story ends up meaning is pretty much up to you, although Dupieux’s shattering of “normal” storytelling techniques is the glue that holds his narrative together.  Other characters enter Fugain’s memory scenes that weren’t actually there at the time, and his conversations with them (“what are you doing in my memory?”) are a weird, amusing, oddly fitting alternative to the way flashbacks are typically presented.  When we reminisce, we often bring elements back into our experience that weren’t there the first time around, and Dupieux’s meta acknowledgement of this, strange as it seems, feels more natural to the way we process memory and time than flashbacks that play out as conventional scenes.

Consistent with Dupieux’s favoring of twisted irregularities over conventional plot, the world of Keep an Eye Out is so bursting at the seams with disorder and confusion that the characters deconstruct the forces that keep it in place.  Self-reflective in the extreme, it’s as if Captain Buron and Fugain are stuck in a movie reality, their lives governed by traditional storytelling techniques, which they then must discuss and tamper with in response.

So, at the end of the day, who is the guilty party in Keep an Eye Out? In a way, watching this film almost feels like Dupieux interrogating his audience, if our crime is expecting chaotic, modern life (and this movie) to kind of make sense.  In the context of this writer/director/DP/editor’s oeuvre, such directness turns out to be a good thing, providing greater illustration of his core ideas as an artist.

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If you’re susceptible to the madcap antics of Monty Python, for example, and have yet to give Dupieux a try, it’s likely you’ll enjoy his brand of absurd comedy.  But if Keep an Eye Out has a central flaw, it’s that the filmmaker falls into somewhat derivative traps.  One vignette, while quite funny, is incredibly reminiscent of the “room guarding” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  For a movie that otherwise feels so unique, moments like this draw attention to themselves.

The same can be said for a later scene, where a reveal of the characters onstage feels directly lifted from Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.  Nonetheless, in a film this funny and inventive, Quentin Dupieux’s homage to the great surrealist is right at home.  He continues a cinematic tradition of profound weirdness, inviting us to question the basic logic that holds our lives together. And so, the interrogation continues.  Same time tomorrow?

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