***originally written 3 May 2011***
Sometimes, since I’ve started reviewing movies I see at the cinema, I find myself split between being engaged with the film and musing on what I might have to say about it. This happens especially if the film itself isn’t so good. But then there are times, unfortunately all-too-few, when I’m exposed to something so absolutely bizarre, confrontational or original that I forget the would-be-journo side of me completely and just absorb. Rubber definitely managed to be bizarre and original. So much so that I’ve spent some of the day since wondering what I might say to sum it up. But what can you say when you’re confronted with a film about a psychokinetic, murderous… tire.
Rubber celebrates surrealism, asking you up front to put aside your usual expectations and embrace those things that happen for no reason at all, could never happen, or flat-out don’t make any kind of sense. With this sensibility quickly established, we are soon introduced to Robert. He rises from the dust of the desert, gets his bearings and rolls out into the dangerous world. There is something bizarrely fascinating in watching this happen; an ordinarily inanimate object learning about the world. About water. About glass. About what it can kill with it’s quivering psychic powers. (Yes, really).
Robert’s journey toward the fringes of civilisation (lured – inevitably – by an attractive woman) leads this delightfully surreal film into the framework of the monster/slasher movie. Victims begin to pile up slowly but surely. The local authorities are suitably perplexed. Psycho gets more than one sly nod. You could almost say it falls into predictability. Except for two things 1) it’s a fucking tire, and 2) this all occurs within an even stranger framework.
You see, Robert is being watched. Watched by the audience. Us. Only in the film we are represented by a motley group of sight-seers, armed with binoculars handed out to them by a bookish fellow who favours the bicycle over other forms of transport. And this fellow is in cahoots with the local sheriff, who is also aware that the whole set-up surrounding Robert is just a strange fiction. A play for our amusement.
This framework allows the film some humanity; some people with which we can interact and relate to. It also quite critically fleshes out a story which, otherwise, would not sustain a feature length presentation. But it does act, strangely, against the central conceit of the film – this celebration of the surreal – by analysing it, by commenting on it, by trying, however convolutedly to explain or at least contextualise the surreal. One might argue strongly that the point of surrealism is to remove such intellectualising. It exists simply to exist. Take Bunuel’s That Obscure Object Of Desire in which both Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina play the same character, interchanging arbitrarily. It is not an intellectual exercise, but the whim of the director hoping to evoke a feeling in the audience.
But I’m getting sidetracked.
The film is frequently, brilliantly funny. Shot through with a terrific dark strain of humour and self-awareness. It is also quite beautifully composed and presented by writer/director/editor/director of photography Quentin Dupieux, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, a few years down the line, his was a name to look out for. In fact everything about Rubber screams out cult classic in the making. One of those film you ‘just have to see’ even if only to say you’ve seen it. And – not counting the replay of the opening monologue that also closes the film – it ends with one of the best lines in all of cinema history. I’d tell you it, but you really just have to see it for yourself.
I’d like to add something more, but I’m still a little dumbfounded, which is probably exactly what Dupieux had in mind. For that, I tip my hat to the man.