Smoking Causes Coughing
- Director: Quentin Dupieux
- Writers: Quentin Dupieux
French absurdist filmmaker Quentin Dupieux knows how to craft a bizarre story with utmost sincerity. His 2020 film Deerskin was the tale of a man going through the most extreme midlife crisis ever by murdering everyone at the command of a jacket. 2021’s Mandibles was about two lovable dopes trying to find fame and fortune by training a dog-sized fly. His latest, Smoking Causes Coughing – which he wrote, directed, shot, and edited himself – sees him essentially throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, for better and worse.
Dupieux certainly knows how to introduce any number of hilarious elements, and the central premise within Smoking Causes Coughing is hilarious enough. But as the film goes on, Dupieux loses the thread of the story and simply wants to introduce jokes for the sake of having jokes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it holds the film back from being a memorable comedy. Early on, we’re introduced to the Tobacco Force, a bit of a misnomer, because it’s essentially a quintet of regular people dressed like Power Rangers who are tasked with saving the world from smoking.
Each of the members is named after a harmful chemical within cigarettes: Benzène (Benzene), Methanol (Vincent Lacoste), Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier), Mercure (Jean-Pascal Zadi), and Ammoniaque (Oulaya Amamra). They’re first seen battling a goofy rubber-suited turtle monster, but are quickly sent on a weeklong retreat by their chief Didier (Alain Chabat) in order to work on their team chemistry. Oh, and Chief Didier is a drooling rat puppet who seems to seduce every woman he interacts with.
Once on the retreat, the film devolves into a kind of anthology structure, with a few of the members telling their versions of campfire stories. The first deals with a pair of couples on a countryside vacation. One of the women, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, finds a bizarre helmet from the 1930s which is supposed to focus your mind. Unfortunately her mind focuses on everyone’s inadequacies and she embarks on a murderous rampage. The next deals with a family on a farm and the unfortunate but humorous accident that befalls one of its workers.
These tangents never really feel like a waste of time because, at the end of the day, they’re full of hilarious character and situation based observations. Of course, it helps that each of the performers – many of whom have worked on Dupieux’s previous films – knows exactly what kind of movie they’re in and plays into it amicably. But with a runtime of only 80 minutes, it detracts from the overall importance of the main characters. If Dupieux simply wanted to make an anthology film, then Smoking Causes Coughing could have easily succeeded. Instead, the end result feels like a jumbled mess thrown together because he didn’t have enough material for multiple films.
Smoking Causes Coughing will be available in select theaters and VOD on March 31.