Mandibles opens on Manu (Grégoire Ludig), a thirty-something slacker who sleeps in the surf and doesn’t have the mental capacity to worry over (or even imagine) what tomorrow might bring. When we meet him, he’s been tasked with delivering the contents of a briefcase to a certain Michel-Michel in exchange for €500. The only catch? He must find a vehicle to do so, since storing the case in the trunk (and thus keeping it out of sight) is apparently of paramount importance.
Manu clears this first hurdle with relative ease by nabbing a battered car off the street and picking up his equally boneheaded friend Jean-Gab (David Marsais) along for the ride. The next one, however, derails their mission entirely; the pair discover a giant housefly roughly the size of a King Charles spaniel in the boot of the car. At first they fret about where they’re going to store their case now that the trunk is occupied, but they soon discard the original plan in favour of – wait for it – training up the fly to rob banks for them. “Like a drone!” Of course they do.
The absurdism of this twist in the plot is juxtaposed nicely with the immediately recognisable tropes of the classic heist movie which formed the premise… and the road doesn’t get any smoother or straighter from here on in. Instead, Manu and Jean-Gab lurch from one daft situation and one laughably short-sighted decision to the next, until they finally chance upon a set of complete strangers, one of whom mistakes Manu for an old schoolfriend. Always eager to ride the crest of the nearest passing wave, the pair hop on board with the new plan without a second thought.
And that’s much the way of the narrative. The central pairing of Manu and Jean-Gab are reminiscent of Lloyd and Harry from Dumb and Dumber, with a story that’s far less cohesive or believable… but that’s entirely the point. As with much of director Quentin Dupieux’s work, the entertainment springs from the nonsensical elements of the plot and the audience is continually left without any clue as to what might transpire next. Meanwhile, these wacky developments, off-the-wall characters and 90s-era animatronic houseflies (named Dominique) are counterbalanced by fleeting senses of realism and the occasional surprisingly well-worked joke. The odd moment in which someone reacts as you might expect or a gag gets an overdue pay-off are all the more rewarding for their scarcity.
The end result of this bonkers combination, then, is a film which is as untaxing as it is entertaining. The humour is instinctive, often physical, and completely without pretention or wit – and it’s hilariously funny to the right viewer. In short, then, Mandibles is an undemanding 78 minutes of cinema that surely won’t let you in on any universal truths or gift you a new perspective on the world, but will deliver silly fun throughout.
Screening as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2021