Quentin Dupeiux’s convoluted dark comedy is both perplexing and entertaining.
Director Quentin Dupieux understands that the surreal blooms in a short period of time. Like Dupieux’ Deerskin (Le daim), Keep An Eye Out (Au poste) slowly pulls back thin leaves of logic before chaos springs out. Masterfully (and perhaps mercifully) just as we realize and appreciate the world’s full confusing splendor, the film ends.
Surrealism thrives on simplicity of plot and Keep An Eye Out is a perfect case study. Louis Fugain (Grégoire Ludig) has found a dead body outside his apartment building and is at the police station to give a statement to Le commissaire Buron (Benoît Poelvoorde). But when Buron steps out and his cycloptic partner Philippe (Marc Fraize) takes over, Fugain’s innocence and grasp on reality are no longer assured.
The innocent straight man versus the unlistening and confused cop is a classic and familiar premise. The comedy in the early part of the film has a theatrical rhythm to it with which Poelvoorde and Fraize are deftly in tune. Immediately we squirm at the stopping and starting of judicial bureaucracy with its decidedly imbalanced power dynamics. Poelvoorde’s commissaire has a syncopated way of listening and twisting words that can only happen when an actor understands his material inside and out. His character is the first to tip us that this world follows a different kind of logic, which collides with Fraize’s face.
Wide-eyed in disbelief, Fugain can hardly believe what he’s hearing. And when his situation goes from annoying to threatening, Fraize is able to humorously amplify his suppressed panic without going over the top. But the series of farcical near misses and misconstruals of the first part soon give way. Just when we think the film is about fact being stranger than fiction, it shifts into an existential and cinematic troubling of reality that feels contemporary and profoundly French.
Surrealism thrives on simplicity of plot and Keep An Eye Out is a perfect case study.
Like Deerskin, Keep An Eye Out is keenly aware of its being cinema. Much of the comedy at the onset is about looking, glances, and perspectives — things only cinema can provide. But suddenly, visions collide. At one point, Buron “watches” Fugain’s imagaining of Buron’s past and provides commentary like a director watching dailies. But Dupieux takes it further and disregards all logic of time and the results tickle in their perplexity.
Time spirals back on itself. As Fugain recounts the events surrounding his discovery of the corpse, he’s confronted by the ghosts of the present. As he looks back on the immediate past, Dupieux weaves an intricate discussion around how the past, present, and future are a tangled web. The past, like a film, is an ongoing narrative with edits, digressions, and endings.
Fugain’s frustration with the narrative of his life seems to knowingly anticipate criticism of the film as incoherent or absurd. Indeed, there will be some who will resist Keep An Eye Out’s circular nature to be slow, tedious, or pointless. Au contraire!
But by the end, we see all the steps that have been carefully laid by Dupieux, which welcomes us to re-watch the film and create our own circular relationship. Films like Keep An Eye Out which embrace and celebrate this mis-logical tone, structure, and relationship to film help us confront and reframe the sometimes violent absurdities of life. They help us imagine Sisyphus laughing.
Keep an Eye Out is now available on VOD.