Smoking Causes Coughing

Smoking Causes Coughing

2023, NR, 82 min. Directed by Quentin Dupieux. Starring Gilles Lellouche, Alain Chabat, Anaïs Demoustier, Vincent Lacoste, Oulaya Amamra, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Marie Bunel, Grégoire Ludig, Benoît Poelvoorde.

REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., March 31, 2023

If what that pretty AMC spokesperson says is true, and we go to the movies for magic, and we define magic as a kind of manipulative sleight of hand, then French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux would probably make a pretty good magician (although whether he would finish one trick before moving on to another is questionable). He would probably not be on the David Blaine/Criss Angel tier of magicians, but those guys are crap filmmakers, so the inverse is apparently not true.

The point is that Dupieux takes the understanding we have been taught about the nature of movie narratives and performs magic tricks. His early approach on films like Rubber was one of gleeful deconstruction, but it has evolved into a more interesting type of comic surrealism, infused with an easygoing adaptability. Whether it is finding a gigantic house fly in the trunk of a car (Mandibles) or discovering your house has a time travel portal in the basement (Incredible but True), Dupieux’s characters are ever nonplussed about these events and the pretzel logic that guides them. And like the various tricks in a magician’s repertoire – some being silly coin-behind-the-ear gags, others invoking genuine amazement (“Why, that was my card!”) – Dupieux employs them all with spirited legerdemain.

But it now becomes unavoidable to discuss Dupieux’s latest film, Smoking Causes Coughing, although the reluctance here stems more from a desire to keep hidden the pleasures of the film rather than to skirt any critical analysis of it. And it’s not like Smoking Causes Coughing is one of those films where there’s some big secret at stake, like the orphan child is really an adult or the whole movie takes place backward. It is that the film unfolds in such a delightfully discursive manner that to mention any of its elements is to sabotage the nature of its storytelling style. But in the interest of the unspoken pact between reader and writer and the inherent expectation for the need of information in this space, here is the official synopsis: “A group of vigilantes called the Tobacco Force is falling apart. To rebuild team spirit, their leader suggests that they meet for a weeklong retreat, before returning to save the world.”

That's suitably vague for this purpose, although it's worth mentioning that the superhero group here is styled after the Japanese sentai or tokusatsu genre, whatever my editor deems is the proper term (technically “sentai,” meaning “squad,” which is a subgenre of tokusatsu, which broadly means special effects, is probably the right term here – Nerdy Ed.), with all the suitable adornments: identical outfits and helmets, rubber-suited monsters, evil masterminds, etc.

It’s also worth mentioning, in the interest of including some semblance of evaluation, that the cast is uniformly excellent and delivers enthusiastic performances, even the ones played by puppets, and the pacing is lively and not at all boring. Smoking Causes Coughing is a bit like reading The Canterbury Tales while being completely unaware that you’re reading The Canterbury Tales, if that makes sense (it might!). If you are still uncertain, if these words have not stirred within you a sense of adventurous curiosity to embrace an unpredictable piece of entertainment, see below, where everything previously expressed has been distilled down to a small grouping of stars denoting the film’s value, just like magic.

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Smoking Causes Coughing, Quentin Dupieux, Gilles Lellouche, Alain Chabat, Anaïs Demoustier, Vincent Lacoste, Oulaya Amamra, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Marie Bunel, Grégoire Ludig, Benoît Poelvoorde

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