Known for such comic pairings as “La folle histoire de Max and Léon,” Marais and Ludig deliver a pair of protagonists who make Bill and Ted seem like Holmes and Watson. Their traveling companion — and here’s where I’ve buried the lead — is a giant housefly named Dominique, which they’re training to obey commands, like a dog, so that it will steal food for them. (When I say “giant,” I mean that Dominique is the size of a small Labrador retriever. The creature effects, while low-tech, are impressive.)
Have I mentioned that the film is by writer-director Quentin Dupieux, whose résumé includes the 2010 film “Rubber,” a dark comedy about a self-aware automobile tire that becomes a serial killer? Or that his most recent film was the equally surreal “Deerskin,” in which Jean Dujardin — yes, the Oscar-winning star of “the Artist” — falls in love with a suede jacket, to a homicidal degree? If you’ve seen either of those two movies, or really anything else by Dupieux, including his 1999 commercial for Levi’s Sta-Prest pants, starring a yellow hand puppet named Flat Eric — then you won’t be entirely surprised by much in “Mandibles.”
And yet no film by Dupieux is ever a straight journey from A to B. Like his other films, this one takes an admittedly slender thread of an idea — one that would make a perfectly good premise for a four-minute comic sketch — and stretches it to almost the breaking point, and sometimes beyond, twisting and intertwining it with other nonsense along the way, just for the heck of it. The character of Agnès, for instance, shouts all her dialogue in a stentorian monotone, the result of a brain injury after a skiing accident. (Yes, it’s very funny, but also: traumatic brain injury?)
None of this, of course, should work. But give Dupieux credit for commitment. He takes something (some might call it something stupid, and Dupieux would probably agree) and leans into its stupidity with the passion of an artist, transforming it into something — well, still stupid, but majestically so.
Dupieux is an acquired taste. But for those who have acquired it, there is one thing about “Mandibles” that may come as a surprise. The director’s previous work, by his own admission, has always been, well, kind of morbid, even as it explored what he calls, in his “Mandibles” director’s statement, “deformed realities, infinitely twisted human relationships, surrealist portraits of our society, profound and childish fantasies.” With this comedy — despite the gruesome fate of a chihuahua, played for laughs, not horror, and despite the fact that the average housefly lives only 15 to 30 days — the director says he has abandoned death “to focus on life.”
Unrated. At the Cinema Arts Theatre. Contains coarse language, drug references, some violence and disturbing images. In French with subtitles. 78 minutes.