An ode to the 'no reason' of cinema, Rubber is without a doubt one of the oddest films in this year's Cannes collection. A tale of a tire rumbling through the desert whose psychokinetic energy can cause heads to explode, it's odd from concept on, and goes out of its way to ensure we've never seen anything quite like it before.
'Why is ET grey?' asks police deputy Xavier (Thomas F. Duffy), addressing the audience in the film's odd prologue. 'No reason. Why is the president killed by someone he's never met in JFK? No reason.' And so why does a tire come to life and spend its day obliterating all life in its path? No reason.
But while the script promises no greater than a film with no rhyme or reason, it all comes together to deliver a film brimming with comic brilliance and manic originality. The tire gets a credit, as Robert, and Robert deserves praise for his performance. You empathize with him, laugh at him, get to know him. You start referring to a piece of rubber as a 'him.'
Indeed, it's less outrageous comedy horror than it is a sweet and nuanced coming of age piece. We witness this tire come to life, take its first tentative steps in the world, go through reckless adolescence and graduate into adulthood from the film's start to its finish. ,br>All the while it's punctuated by reaction shots from a small group of audience members in the desert who are watching events unfold through binoculars. They comment on what we're seeing, on its believability and entertainment value. They live the film in real time and occasionally interact with its characters. It's all very odd and very meta, but it doesn't prove jarring. Instead it adds another surreal level to an already surreal movie.
But if Robert steals the show, performance-wise (and 'he' even got most of the attention during the film's Cannes premiere, as he was given a seat for the screening) it's Thomas F. Duffy selling the human angle. His police deputy is in on the whole thing, both part of the 'movie' and interacting with the 'audience' at regular intervals. In one of the funniest scenes, he tries to explain to the other police officers that everything is fake, and orders one to shoot him. When blood comes out he tells them about squibs and says he feels no pain. It has to be seen to be believed.
Director Quentin Dupieux, who also wrote, edited and shot the film, and composes the music under his pseudonym Mr. Oizo, seems to suggest some profound idea against which to set his film - though it's an inherently ridiculous notion if you give it a moment's thought - but he saves the concept from pretension by making sure the comedy is strong and punchy. And the film looks beautiful, at times gritty and real like a Gus van Sant indie, at others polished and planned like a Hollywood epic.
An idea like this runs every risk of becoming overplayed. There's such minimalism to the central concept that there was every chance the film would struggle to maintain its quality over a feature-length runtime. And perhaps that's it's greatest achievement, because that never happens. It's always strong, always funny, and always engaging.
It has no peer; nothing comparable to provide a recommendation. And while it centers around the lampooning of cinematic conceits, that's not to suggest it won't work for a general audience, nor definitely win over an audience of cineastes. It's simply its own beast: a true original.