Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Halloween 31 For 31: Rubber (2010)

Director: Quentin Dupieux
Screenplay: Quentin Dupieux
Cast: Stephen Spinella (as Lieutenant Chad); Jack Plotnick (as Accountant); Wings Hauser (as Man In Wheelchair); Roxane Mesquida (as Sheila); Robert (as The Tire)

Synopsis: As explained to the viewer by policeman Lieutenant Chad (Spinella), the following film exists for "no reason". As a crowd of viewers stand on a hill, watching on at the events unfolding with binoculars, a rubber car tire (Robert) comes to life in a wasteland area. Not only does the tire become a living and moving entity, but it also has psychokinetic powers that allows him to cause anything it concentrates on to explode. The tire starts its destructive tendencies running over a plastic bottle, than a scorpion, than blowing up small animals before, after developing an obsession with a young woman Sheila (Mesquida), turning its attentions to human beings.

It's a gamble to start any film with a monologue to the camera talking about films existing for "no reason". It's a way to let this film's premise exist without complaint, but not only can it be seen as the director-writer having his head up his own arse, but it could be a betrayal of the premise as well, as one doesn't need to justify a premise like this and should make the film regardless without the monologue. But let's take the idea of "no reason" seriously for a moment. It could be seen as a very nihilistic monologue but I can't help but think, even if it wasn't Quentin Dupieux's intention, of "no reason" meaning that no concrete rationale exists for why films are made, only entirely subjective reasons existing. Because anything can be depicted in cinema, the choices made are entirely based on the individuals involved and their will to create it. The reason why no one uses the bathroom in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) was done for a reason, but it was a subjective one, "no reason" baring what was desired for the film's crew. It could be seen as tasteless to reference JFK (1991) and The Pianist (2002) in this monologue, the real life events having reasons in terms of a successful assassination attempt and the Holocaust to explain them, but films based on real events, especially those sort of films as information can be changed to be more cinematic, have "no reason" to having been made barring a decision to depict the event in a movie. A decision could've been made as much to make a film about JFK surviving and changing American politics, which would have "no reason" in being made barring the mere desire to.

If the monologue is in danger of being pretentious, there is a vague reach to Dada ideals that there is no clear definition of cinema's meaning barring its mere creation. Dada hated the presumed beleifs of what art was through the act of anti-art, while here the film prods at why anyone takes things like ET being brown at face value. Even the non-film examples like why people like sausages and some don't explains this, "no reason" unless in rare circumstances like vegetarianism for any decision or type of behaviour to exist barring being a subjective choice by a person only. "No reason" is a mantra for removing pretence from any cinematic choice and letting it exist as an unpredictable entity to be viewed without trying to rationalise it. It means as well the notion of the subjective is important. One of the key facets to the abstract cinema I hunt out for this blog is that they question grounded ideals of what exists in storytelling and how cinema is actually made, what the images and sound (or lack of them) do to effect a viewer. The "No reason" argument could be typed out and placed underneath the blog's title because it perfectly encapsulates how cinema can (and should) distort one's perceptions of reality. The thing that doesn't make any sense, and encapsulates the point of the monologue, is that Lieutenant Chad is giving the speech, having gotten out from the boot of a police car beforehand, while holding a glass of water and doesn't drink any of it, spilling it on the ground on purpose. A waste of a nice cold drink in a hot desert, also a subtle moment of absurdity which "No reason" is demonstrated through.

Breathing life into a tire, Rubber manages to bring a personality to an inanimate object as well and make it one of the most intriguing villains to appear in cinema, brought to life with practical effects and framing that manages to bring a reality to the creation. It starts the film falling repeatedly like a child learning to walk to his more unconventional behaviour being fleshed out, especially his obsession with television, a strange joke in his fascinating with human beings but causing many to implode on a whim. There's an innate surrealism to a tire being seen on an arm chair while watching NASCAR on television, his cousins on the wheels of the cars onscreen, and the narrative plays with such moments continually, the interactions with the tire and the actors far from embarrassing for the performers before Robert is actually a talented actor through utterly clever production skills. No matter how absurd the image is, the tire is depicted with such skill in how it was made to move and interact with its environment that when a scene comes of it rolling down a highway being followed by a police car, there is a weight of conflict there despite one of the participants being a Goodyear tire.

The audience within the film viewing the events is less interesting as a meta comment or Greek chorus as the film goes on but become as much part of the onion layers of this film's world instead. The concept itself is more stranger than you'd normally presume, such a trope not that rare now, because of how it effects temporality and perception greatly, us the viewer watching an audience watching the events through including them. The meta references, such as someone being caught pirating the events on a digital camera or wheelchair bound Wings Hauser criticising the policemen for taking too long to blow up the tire, are very obvious and instead feels more rewarding if viewed in the same light as a Monty Python sketch. Here the fourth wall breaking becomes less a comment of the various forms of reality but a more subversive form of it through making everything prey for a joke at their expense, even the distance between us and the actors on the screen made as ridiculous. That the audience is part of a peculiar conspiracy that's part of the narrative is far more interesting, a conspiracy that ends up bringing a further layer of distorting to the world's reality because Hauser refuses to eat or sleep, more interested in watching the live action film (sic) playing out.

What helps is that Dupieux has a clear sense of humour, the right sensibility of having sincere thoughts alongside the sillier content, making them fit together seamlessly. A short interview with him he directed himself about Rubber's origins is proof of this - what he talks about is entirely real comments, but he happens to be speaking like the backward talking midget in Twin Peaks and the voice of the interviewer is being layered over a male blow-up sex doll in a director's chair. He avoids making such humour in the film itself too broad, instead intercut with scenes of quietness or the ordinary being subjected to the scenario. There's is a sereneness to an image of a tire dropping itself into a swimming pool, languishing in the bottom as one would find in a shot of an actor doing the same, as much of interest for Dupieux to envision the idea through a form of fleshed out existence as well as revelling in the countless head explosions that take place too.

Technical Detail:
Short on digital, a huge virtue for the cult electronic musician turned director is that he's got an eye for beautiful cinematography and, as his own cinematographer too, he made the clever decision of setting his strange premise in the realistic setting of Americana. Vast tracks of desert surround the gas stations and rundown diners, and for all the absurdity of Spinella's performance as the police lieutenant who knows he's an actor for the audience within the film, everyone else is playing their roles seriously as ordinary folk who've ended up in an absurd scenario, one where a car tire can cause peoples' heads to explode like in Scanners (1981). I've actively despised how the term "surreal" has been taken over to represent something that's a surface, novelty weirdness, or a film like Final Flesh (2009) which forgets a vital part of surrealism of grounded reality and the irrational co-existing in the same scenario. While it doesn't take itself seriously, Rubber is still a sincerely made b-movie with artistic sensibilities, executing the premise of a killer car tire to the best of its abilities.  The digital camera, when used right, is as useful a tool as celluloid especially as, with beautiful flashes of sun rays hitting the screen, the grounded reality makes the events of the film more potent in their strangeness than if a wacky aesthetic had won out. As the director was successful before his filmmaking career as musician Mr. Oizo, his co score with Gaspard Augé is suitably atmospheric, dance music which still fits the tone of the scenario.

Abstract Spectrum: Psychotronic/Surreal
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium
The film is a b-movie premise but made with sincerity and purpose, rather than with irony and little to build upon. The meta-content could be seen as the sole weakness as it feels like an unnecessary defence to the film, but Rubber despite this is a prime example of how you can make an unconventional genre film which stands out as a one-off. As the audience within the film are whittled down to just Wings Hauser, the film escalates to a stranger tone, multiple layers of reality at play that boggles conventions. Unlike another film, Rubber can get away with an abrupt and random joke occasionally at this point because it keeps a consistent tone which develops this escalation further. Sometimes it's better to not need an intellectual reason behind events in a film, instead the complete unpredictability of the content and even how the structure changes the real abstract aspect of the movie itself. A joke about a stuffed toy abruptly appearing becomes a jolt, one never mentioned again, that stands out in a scene that's already great because the director-writer manages to create reality that accepts these "no reason" moments. That it only takes a tire to begin is fitting. One artist in the past had found just implementing two baguettes as shoes perfectly encapsulated a surreal idea, and that the film almost suggests a parody of the Planet of the Apes films throughout its very short running time adds to this notion in an incredibly funny way that also evokes a serious ecological message out-of-the-blue too.

Personal Opinion:
Rubber was such a pleasant revisit, a cult film which can legitimately get on the Abstract List because the tone and content is suitably out there in context. The strength of this has enforced as well a reason why I love this type of cinema, Rubber starting off with a basic premise and semblance of a plot but using them as links to connect the more important aspects, the results and their effect on the viewer. This could've been an awful film, legitimately pretentious, if it was bogged down by an overcomplicated narrative or too much dialogue, instead depicting the absurd premise through the visual content and choice use of lines from the actor that add to the surrealism instead. Even here you can learn that you get a better film if narrative is pushed aside in favour of the bare bones of a narrative being used to lead to the effects created by it.

Compare this to a film like Tokyo Gore Police (2008) - Reviewed Here - which had a lot of plotting which went nowhere and undermined what good it had through poor cinematic content, until finally drowning itself in a lack of clarity and lack of an actual finale act. A film like Rubber in comparison is not only an excellent example of surrealism in genre cinema, but is a good modern day cult film. I also found the film utterly hilarious and inventive, culminating in a delightfully great climax where Los Angeles with the Hollywood sign in the skyline is the final shot. You'd want to see a sequel but it was probably for the better that Quentin Dupieux left it to this ending only and made other films instead.

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