After the whimper of the recent Guardians of The Galaxy films, director Quentin Dupieux introduces us to Tobacco Force, a merry band of rogues who represent the individual components of nicotine. Dupieux manages the Terry Gilliam trick of seeming far-reaching and frenzied at the same time, but laces the work with a bleakness that’s undeniably French in its resolve. In this batty world, the Tobacco Force are beloved celebrities, regularly spending time with the fans who populate their training ground for a cheeky selfie or two.
Deliciously silly, and directed with tremendous affection for the comics of the 1970s, Dupieux’s film follows a more anthological terrain compared to some of the more streamlined projects in his oeuvre, and although this isn’t as intelligent a feature as his 2019 effort Deerskin, it’s nonetheless a dizzying, frequently dazzling, look at cigarette consumption in the modern world. Much of it bears a darkly comic tone: A young man named Michael (Anthony Sonigo) seems nonplussed by the fact that his feet are stuck in an industrial machine, even though every turn of the nob leads him closer and closer to death.
“How will I tell your mother that you are crippled?” his aunt bellows, although the characters embrace the hopelessness with a chuckle and a grin. The remaining stories hold a similarly odd tone, capturing a curiosity (occasional disgust) at the world at large. The Tobacco Force gang together to exhibit a camaraderie that’s based on stupidity and sincerity, although they too fall to the trappings of fame, engaged in their endeavours to better themselves. Mercifully, the film follows a slim 80 minutes (anyone aching for something sepulchral and herculean should sit this out for a Martin Scorsese epic), and the jokes, while occasionally hamfisted, have a direction in mind.
Like many comedies, the ambition isn’t to provide answers,but context. It’s a film of context, cohesion, colour. Some would even call it a tragicomedy of sorts, and although the film is fairly jolly, it’s unlikely that anyone would feel like imbibing anything slighter than whiskey at the close. For all its flaws, the movie is incredibly human, and there’s no denying the effort that pieced the work from the ground up. What’s fleeting might be fun, but it is also lethal, and what is lethal, is also human. But humans have a penchant for survival (the recent pandemic has only illustrated that further), and although we may be stupid, we definitely have style.
Smoking Causes Coughing in is cinemas Friday, July 7th. On Mubi in August.