I’m a big fan of absurdist filmmaking. Whenever a director or writer takes the idea that we’re watching a movie, and that movies have their own sense of reality to play with, and exploit it, I’m happy. Brazil, Rhinoceros, Clowns, and to a lesser extent older Woody Allen films and Cohen Brothers work, have all taken a shot at the absurd.
When it works, it works beautifully and it shows film in its truest and most artistic form. If it doesn’t work, as with the film Rubber, the film becomes a pretentious, wasteful and often boring experience. Rubber is unique in that it manages to hit all three right on the nose. Director Quentin Dupieux has taken what could have been a hysterically bizarre film and turned it into a derivative film school project.
Rubber is the tale of a car tire that suddenly gains sentience. As the tire rolls through the desert, it discovers that it has telekinetic ability and begins blowing things up. At some point the tire also falls in love with a woman (the anatomically crippling Roxane Mesquida) and discovers TV. On paper Rubber should be amazing and if it had followed one of two roads, it may well have been. The way a film like this would work is to either expand on the idea or condense it. If Rubber had been a twenty-minute short it may have won an Oscar and if the filmmakers had just expanded on the general idea, it could have been a solid cult film.
Instead, director Quentin Dupeiux (who also wrote Rubber) tries to make his movie a tribute to absurd cinema and a statement on horror movies. In order to do this, especially the former, Rubber is expanded through a ridiculous and incredibly pretentious subplot. Apparently the entire movie is based around the idea that things happen in film for “no reason”. This is spelled out for us in the beginning via a long, drawn out speech given by one of the film’s stars. The speech is meant to clue us in on the joke but comes off as though the filmmakers are condescending art pricks.
To make matters worse, we’re introduced to a group of people who are watching what’s happening in the film, an audience that do deadpan “funny’ commentary. Now, try and stay with me here, in the actual film there is a sheriff who knows it’s a movie. He’s assisted by a thin nerdy kid who also knows it’s a movie. They feed the audience poisoned food and when they think they’re all dead, the sheriff and thin man start telling the actors in the film that it’s all over and they can go home. Of course the actors keep acting, telling the sheriff and the thin man they don’t understand what they mean. Turns out a crippled man refuses to eat, so there’s still one more spectator. Get it? Is the art flowing over you?
Rubber is a mess. If it had just been about a tire chasing a girl and killing people, it’s a cult film or a cool short. With all of this other subplot mess around it, any originality that came with the original idea gets lost. The pomposity of Rubber is so prevalent that you can almost felt hem saying “Look at us, we’re artists”. This is the kind of film that makes true art films look bad, that feeds into the idea that those who make movies outside the box are all egotistical, self-important dicks that sip lattes and live on their own deluded sense of achievement.
The only good thing about Rubber is Roxane Mesquida, the gloriously beautiful actress that breathes a little life into this boring, bag of hot air movie. She actually looks as annoyed at the content as the audience feels, and realistically her beauty could make an insurance seminar a good time. I hope Roxanne makes more films in the future, because she is femme fatale personified. What makes Rubber such a disappointment is that it could have been great. If given to somebody who loved the genre, the funny subtext could have come out beneath the veneer of a horror film. Instead this movie plods along until it’s nonsensical and ridiculous ending. I don’t blame the tire though. This was his first film.