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Rubber (2011, France)

15/04/2011

Director: Quentin Dupieux        Starring: Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, Wings Hauser

This French produced tribute to stalker horror is something of an oddity, much like it’s oddball writer director Dupieux – a man whose on disc interview is conducted by an inflatable doll with his answers recorded in reverse. Pitched on the cover as an homage to schlock stalker horror that is “Extraordinarily brilliant and extremely violent” and “a thrilling, hilarious and beyond bizarre movie that’s guaranteed to stop you in your tracks”. What it actually is though is a horse of a very different colour.

Robert is a tyre. Yes, a tyre. Discarded in the Californian desert he discovers he is imbued with life and he rises from the sand and embarks on a journey of self discovery. Along the way he realises that as well as the gift of life he as acquired potent psycho-kinetic powers and is also a raging psychopath. When a mysterious girl (Mesquida) crosses his path he becomes obsessed and follows her, crushing all that stand in his path and coming to the attention of local law enforcement in the process. As if this wasn’t strange enough Robert’s story is a particularly strange exercise in meta-fiction, his film within a film being observed from afar by a group of spectators via binoculars. Police Lieutenant Chad (Spillane) is aware of this audience and is eager to find a way to break free from the unreality of his situation. Like I said, odd.

If anything, this fourth wall destroying approach has rendered what could have been an interesting take on the genre something of an exercise in trying to be clever, too clever in fact. In a spelling it out for the audience monologue at the very beginning of the film we are addressed by Liuetenant Chad who offers up examples of things in major films that are arbitrary and have no explanation, that simply are that way. He describes the film we are about to watch as “an homage to ‘no reason'”. It’s unnecessary and clumsy and some of his points are very, very debatable. The rest of the “aware of the audience” moments are better and less jarring, sometimes bordering on the amusing. The tragedy of them though is that they distract from what is actually rather a good story. Sucking up half of the sparse 82 minute running time they don’t leave much time for Robert. Which is a shame, because considering he’s nothing more than a worn, brandless tyre, Dupieux has succeeded in imbuing him with more life than you usually get from a stalker horror villain.

After Chad’s opening tirade, we are treated to fifteen minutes of simply stunning photography as Robert shudders into life and starts to explore the limits of his new found awareness and animation. I really cannot stress enough the sheer gorgeousness of the images in this film. Shot in high definition, in the sun bleached Californian desert, the visuals are breathtaking. This first quarter of an hour is worth the investment in a Blu Ray player on its own. Seriously, it’s that beautiful. And it’s a visual quality that is maintained throughout the film and that makes all the film’s obvious flaws very easy to forgive. Similarly, the tentative way in which Robert rises from the dust and tests the limits of his sudden power is the sort of silent beauty Pixar achieved with Wall-E only coloured by a sinister purpose. His graduation from bottle crushing, to bird exploding to Scanners level head bursting is intriguing and surprisingly full of emotion. You have to remind yourself that you are watching a film about a tyre rather than a person. It’s so good that you really wish they had ditched the distracting audience side plot and stuck with the story of the demented tyre.

You get the sense that Dupieux thinks he has been supremely clever with this film and that he’s making important statements about film and its relationship with its audience. I don’t think either of these things are true. What is more likely is that he has tried to be weird for the sake of it (perhaps this is the “homage to ‘no reason'” of which Chad speaks?) and in so far as having a killer tyre it works, but the post modern, self awareness is a step too far that I feel undermines the effect rather than enhancing it. As a story then, it’s a bit weak but it makes up for it with an eye blistering visual experience and some well executed characterisation. If you are going to watch it, try and catch it on Blu Ray for maximum effect.

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