The first time you heard about Quentin Dupieux, you may not have actually realized it; his first artistic endeavours were in the world of electronic music under the pseudonym Mr. Oizo. Even if you don’t roll particularly deep in the late-’90s French electro scene, you’ve probably heard “Flat Beat” at least once. Having worked with Michel Gondry early in his career, Dupieux directed most (if not all) of the Mr. Oizo videos before pivoting more permanently to filmmaking with 2008’s Steak, a vehicle for comedy duo Eric & Ramzy. Since then, he’s cultivated a very singular cinematic oeuvre that can be quickly (if not exactly accurately) described as absurdist comedy in the Tim & Eric vein.
Why am I telling you all of this shit that you could easily have Googled, you ask? Well, frankly, because I think Dupieux’s new movie Au poste! is so good that I don’t really want to say anything more about it — which puts me in a particular position when I’m sitting in front of Dupieux himself, ostensibly to discuss the film.
“There’s no point in describing what’s interesting about this movie,” says Dupieux. “It’s a cop interrogating a suspect. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the entire synopsis. No matter which way you slice it, it’s a cop interrogating a suspect. The way we treat it makes the film interesting — for some people, at least — but there’s really not much more to write about it than that!”
Though it’s a fool’s errand to try, here’s a little more about it. Fugain (Grégoire Ludig) has been brought in to the police station for questioning after finding a stranger dead on the street in front of his apartment building. Fugain maintains his innocence but, of course, the person who calls it in is always the sketchiest, so Inspector Buron (Benoît Poelvoorde) insists on interrogating him in-depth. Buron isn’t a particularly smart or involved cop, but he’s determined — or something like that.
What follows is a stupid-smart absurdist comedy that can be taken a myriad of ways; it’s as easy to identify Beckett and Brecht as influences as it is to compare it to Monty Python, Mr. Bean and Step Brothers. French press cited Claude Miller’s Garde à vue (another interrogation two-hander in which a cop played by Lino Ventura interrogates a suspect played by Michel Serrault) as an influence, but Dupieux says the similarities are purely coincidental.
“I wasn’t thinking of Garde à vue when I made it,” he says. “The interrogation is purely a stylistic choice and Garde à vue didn’t invent it. The police interrogation is just a movie thing – it’s something we’ve gotten very used to seeing on screen. It’s a cliché just like a car chase or any other cop cliché — and I think it’s an interesting cliché, to boot. A cop working over a guy is cinematic, whether it’s a little scene or an entire film — like this one.”
“It’s for the plaisir de la pirouette,” says Dupieux. “Everyone knows that movies are fake. Especially this one! I don’t think anyone watching this movie is involved in it the way… I saw this movie with my friend Éric Judor in it this morning — it’s a story about children who have lost their mother, and so you really do become involved in it. In my movie, everyone knows it’s a joke. It’s a perpetual wink. Everyone knows it’s a put-on! It’s theatre!”
Au poste!’s surface simplicity can be deceiving. For Dupieux, it actually represented one of the biggest challenges of his career. “A movie like this one relies so heavily on two characters and we can’t really fix anything with editing,” he explains. “The particularity of this film is that I couldn’t create jokes through editing. The actors had to own the text as if it were theatre. They had to make it theirs, and for that I needed guys on that level. The same movie with less prepared, less confident actors — it wouldn’t work.”
Cops have featured prominently in Dupieux’s work, but before I even finish my question, he stops me. “It’s not at all a political or social commentary,” he says. “I’ve said it often: These movies could also feature doctors. I like uniforms, and I like the stories they tell. With my film Wrong Cops, I could have just as easily made Wrong Doctors or… anything else, really. If you look at Wrong Cops, they never actually once act like cops. (laughs) They don’t use their guns, they don’t do their jobs, they don’t solve any crimes… they just wear the uniforms. That’s what I enjoy — to play with cinematic elements like uniforms. Uniforms are very cinematic! I’d have just as much fun with firefighters or race car drivers — anyone from a universe with its own set of codes. I find that fascinating.” ■
Au poste! opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Oct. 12. It screens at Cinéma du Musée (1380 Sherbrooke W.) with English subtitles. Watch the trailer below.
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