French writer/director Quentin Dupieux has what can only be described as a unique approach to genre black comedy. His 2010 film Rubber was a surprisingly inventive b-horror spoof about a psychic killer tire, wrapped up in a meditation on the nature of film itself. His latest, Keep an Eye Out is a black comedy in the same vein.
The film begins as a mumblecore take on a police procedural, before becoming something entirely different and utterly surreal. Dupieux has big ideas and ambitions to match, but Keep An Eye Out doesn’t always pull them off.
Keep An Eye Out is wonderfully odd, funny, and charming […] delightfully surprising and totally absorbing.
Keep An Eye Out takes place over the course of a single night, in a single police station. Fugain (Grégoire Ludig) has discovered a corpse in a pool of blood outside his apartment complex. He calls the cops as any dutiful citizen would, but Police Commissaire Buron (Benoît Poelvoorde), believes Fugain is the prime suspect. He grills the hapless witness all night, and we relive the sequence of events that lead up to the discovery of the body. All the while, unexpected interruptions and gory missteps complicate the proceedings, lowering Fugain’s chances of being declared innocent.
When the film sticks to its basic premise, it’s an amusingly absurd take on a crime film. Not all the humor works, but when it does, Keep An Eye Out is wonderfully odd, funny, and charming. The goriest twist of the story was delightfully surprising and totally absorbing. I found myself genuinely invested in this strange little story and what might happen to the unlucky Fugain.
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Unfortunately, as soon as Keep An Eye Out sold me on its story and characters, it dropped both with an abrupt turn into full-on experimental. Dupieux took Rubber in a similar direction, but at least, in that case, he laid out his intent from the start. While I suppose Keep An Eye Out’s surreal opening credits should have spoken for themselves, the comparatively traditional narrative that followed put me into a state of enjoyment that I wasn’t happy to be jostled from.
My reaction was of course, exactly what Dupieux intended. The shift from narrative storytelling to a meta-examination of cinema itself can work. But it works best when the movie within the movie, so to speak, has enough avante garde, over-the-top flavor to not feel so interrupted by the shift. For my part, I felt the move in Keep An Eye Out didn’t work. I was too attached to the characters and film that could have been.
That being said, the majority of Keep An Eye Out’s speedy runtime is that simple, straightforward story. And when it stays in that lane, it’s delightful.
“…a charming and absurd comedy that veers into a far less successful meta-art piece.”
The cast all succeed at the difficult task of understated comedy, Ludig plays an endearingly befuddled protagonist. He has wonderful comic sensibilities, and his reactions to the insanity that surrounds him are as if he too were expecting events to follow common sense, making him a perfect audience surrogate. We root for him, even when he occasionally acts foolishly and digs himself deeper into his mess.
Poelvoorde’s police chief is a perfect comic foil for Fugain. He has a great understated delivery that brings about delayed but ultra satisfying laughs. The supporting cast shines as well with their brief scenes, and all parties play beautifully off each other. The script supports everyone with uproarious but conversational dialogue. I’m inclined to imagine much of the scenes were primarily improvised by the cast. The interactions are simply too unpredictability funny and fast moving for that not to be the case.
Finally, the production design and cinematography is excellent. The film has a vaguely vintage look, with 80s era technology and clothing styles. It gives off the vibe that this could take place in the past. Or perhaps we are witnessing a police station and population so painfully out of touch that they haven’t updated their computers or hairstyles for the times? The latter scenario would certainly fit the film’s quirky sense of humor. With warm reds and golds and carefully composed cinematography, the drab, industrial police station and Fugain’s apartment complex are transformed into inviting, fantastical environments.
All in all, Keep An Eye Out is a charming and absurd comedy that veers into a far less successful meta-art piece. But taken as a whole, the film has enough charm and originality to outweigh it’s potentially divisive aspects. After all, if I came out of it feeling as disoriented as our interrogated protagonist, that was probably the point.
Keep An Eye Out played the 7th Edition of the Ithaca Fantastik Film Festival, featuring in the festival’s Cinema Pur program. It took home the Cinema Pur Audience Award. Keep an eye out — get it? because of the title…ahem… sorry — for more reviews from the festival here on Nightmare on Film Street.