Saturday, 26 March 2011

Rubber (Quentin Dupieux, 2010) Flatpack Review

Robert the tyre finds his dark side in the self-knowing horror flick Rubber (2010)

And there you have it. With the arrival of Rubber we have the ultimate carsploitation trilogy. Let me break it down for you: The Hitcher (Harmon, 1986) is about the guy in the car. Christine (Carpenter, 1983) is about the car. And Rubber is simply about the tyre. Except that, actually, we kind of don't have the ultimate carsploitation trilogy. Despite what the grindhouse-style marketing would have you believe Rubber is actually more of a meta, ironic, tongue-in-cheek character study. It opens on a road in the middle of the desert; scattered across it are chairs. A car appears and in a protracted long shot proceeds to knock over each and every one of the chairs before coming to a halt. Then the Sheriff clambers out of the boot and walks toward the camera. Breaking the fourth wall he essays a series of plot holes or questions that may arise from watching horror and fantasy movies. Why do these things happen, he asks? "No reason" is his answer. He widens the argument. "Why do some people love sausages, and some people hate them?" he demands. "No fucking reason." He then walks back to the car, clambers back into the boot and the shot pulls back to reveal an audience of people. The car drives off. Why did any of this just happen? No reason. As the Sheriff says, this movie is an "homage to the 'no reason'." You just go with it - and it's strangely fascinating...

I never expected to be saying this about Rubber but it's actually a post-modern work of art. Sure, there are plenty of exploding heads and the audience I was with cracked up at the sight of bunny getting splattered. But gore-hounds expecting, say, Treevenge (Eisener, 2008) with a tyre will be sorely disappointed. This is a mostly silent film consisting of long tracking shots following Robert (the tyre) across a desolate landscape. There's a really minimalist score too, by Gaspard Augé and Mr. Oizo which is largely used as the punchline to some carefully crafted visual gags. There are two things that surprised me about Rubber. Firstly was the fact that the best thing about it is the screenplay, also by Dupieux. There's a really strange subplot which also acts as the central storytelling device, which is that the events of the film are actually being staged for an audience watching through binoculars; they are camping out in the wilderness nearby. This means that everyone in the film is consciously acting, but there's a streak of dark drama which enters this plot strand. I don't want to spoil anything here, but I'll say one thing: beware the turkey. The script is layered and intelligent. I think there may be some kind of genre deconstruction in there somewhere and while I understood some of it I think only some more prepared re-watches will uncover what the film really has to offer. On a first watch it's the gags which really hit home, the best of which are delivered by the Sheriff (Stephen Spinella; utterly hilarious) and his police team. There's a terrific entrapment scene where a highly detailed mannequin strapped with dynamite is employed to try and fool Robert - who, it should be said, kills his victims with telepathic powers. There is a speaker attached to the mannequin and on the other end is the gorgeous Roxanne Mesquida. "You've been a bad boy. Kill me, I want it!" The challenge is set now: find me a funnier sting operation scene in the history of cinema.

The second thing which surprised me is just how much emotion Dupieux evokes from Robert. We first see him as if being born; trembling in the ground and eventually rising. He rolls for a little bit and then falls over. He's like a toddler taking it's first steps, and we laugh. He falls over again; we snigger. Then he falls a third time and a tinge of sadness enters the scene. As he rolls through the desert for what feels like forever we feel sadness. When he sits in his hotel room watching documentaries about tortoises (yes, we're still talking about the tyre, yes, he has killed the maid) we get a true sense of isolation. The photography has a naturalistic, almost elegiac quality to it. Great shots of mountains and clouds provide the backdrop for Rubber, and set over a hot week the lighting is quite lovely. The most poignant moment comes in a scene where Robert stumbles across a yard where men are throwing tyres on a fire. Smoke rises from the flames. Could Robert have communicated with them? Made friends? He stares on, blank as ever. It sounds absurd - somewhat pretentious even - for me to be explaining the film to you in this fashion, but it really has to be seen to be believed. Rubber is self aware in a way that no other movie is. It's funny, poignant and very intelligent, as well as a little absurdist. Why? No reason. But I'm so glad it's not just another trashy exploitation homage - that trend died long ago, and movies this fresh are a rare delight...

Rubber is released on DVD and Blu Ray on April 11th.

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