Quentin Dupieux’s “Keep an Eye Out” On-Brand Weird and Almost Excellent

by Warren Cantrell on March 4, 2021

in Print Reviews,Reviews

Opens in theaters and virtual cinemas nationwide on March 5th

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]

If it’s a Quentin Dupieux movie, then it’s going to be weird: that’s a given. In 2020, the writer/director released a movie about a guy murdering people at the behest of a sentient deerskin jacket, and that wasn’t even the nuttiest thing he put out that year (check out Mandibles, I dare you), so expectations should be properly set for his newest, Keep an Eye Out (French: Au poste!). And while it isn’t a conventional picture by any means, Keep an Eye Out gets as close to a complete, fulfilling cinematic experience as one might ever hope for from Dupieux.

For middle-aged Frenchman, Fugain (Grégoire Ludig), it’s been a long night. Stuck at a police station with an inspector, Buron (Benoît Poelvoorde), who is treating their interrogation like root canal work, Fugain is in a tough spot. He found a body outside of his apartment flat in the early hours of the morning, and due to a peculiar set of entirely reasonable circumstances, he’s the prime suspect in Buron’s investigation. Fugain has a consistent, if somewhat implausible, explanation for his actions leading up to the body’s discovery, but an accident at the police station involving a one-eyed officer named Philippe (Marc Fraize) puts him in a position that is even more difficult to explain.

Something of a chamber piece, Keep an Eye Out operates largely within the confines of a single room where Buron asks Fugain to relate the details of the evening leading to the body’s discovery. Dupieux’s script manages to weave the action from these two different timelines into an anxious, funny, compelling little black comedy, which is bolstered by the work of its two leads. Indeed, Ludig’s turn as the increasingly flustered innocent squaring off against a cop whose laziness and fatigue could either save or doom the guy depending on which way the wind blows makes for a largely entertaining watch, even if it is somewhat thematically uneven.

Dupieux will always swerve into the weird rather than away from it, and that sometimes separates the film from its own universe, like when he opens this movie with a man in his underwear conducting an orchestra in the middle of a field. This scene appears to serve no purpose except to brace the audience for absurdity and mayhem, and while that may be the ultimate point, it creates an unbalanced, almost untrustworthy dynamic between the viewer and the material. It’s difficult to invest in something that doesn’t appear to be sure of its own purpose, and like last year’s Deerskin, Keep an Eye Out seems to be dangling meaning and function like a fishing lure through all of this madness.

The difference is that in this newest effort the audience is allowed to catch the flashy bait from time to time, and some of the dots are indeed connected. Dupieux’s willingness to barge into a flashback so that characters from the present can interact with a memory tease at a sort of meta-contextual commentary about the fallibility of remembrance, and a person’s eagerness to make sense of the past with creative reconstruction. Although this message gets muddled from time to time, like with the underwear conductor or Fugain’s unique consumption of an oyster, there does seem to be some method within the madness, here. And while there are no easy answers (the weird AF ending makes sure of that), Keep an Eye Out at least remains consistent with its logic and the conceit of its characters.

The lynchpin of this piece is Ludig, who is the ostensible “straight man” throughout all of the film’s twists and turns. Setting aside spoilers, it should suffice to say that none of this works, the ending included, unless the audience is on-board with Fugain and his story. The perfect avatar for the viewer, it is easy to slide into the man’s shoes and imagine how one might make some of the same mistakes as him, and his increased panic and desperation is readily identifiable. Dupieux’s script never allows things to get too heavy or serious, despite the sometimes grizzly nature of the story, and it’s a credit to the writer/director and his leads that such an unconventional story could remain so captivating.

That said, there’s plenty about this one that doesn’t track well, including the ending, which makes about as much sense as the underwear-clad beginning. Again, though, maybe that’s the point. Life is odd, random, meta, not entirely linear, and sometimes makes even less sense than Keep an Eye Out. It would have been nice if Dupieux connected some of this to a broader conversation about his characters and their relationship with the “real” world, yet that wouldn’t be on-brand for the director. For Dupieux, master of absurd chaos, nothing makes sense in the grand scheme of things, even if one is led to believe they’ve got a handle on stuff two-thirds of the way through. In this way, at least the guy and his movies are consistent, and worth keeping an eye out for the next one.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.

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