Smoking Causes Coughing, the brainchild of über-absurdist Quentin Dupieux, is bizarre, very, very silly, strangely disquieting and rather flimsy.
Super Sillyby Alexa Dalby
Smoking Causes Coughing
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Is this even a film? Written, directed, filmed and edited by droll absurdist Quentin Dupleix (Deerskin), with a bleached-out palette that makes it look like a bad home movie, it’s more a collection of scenes than a movie in the usual sense. It’s always bizarre, sometimes funny and occasionally gross.
The pretext of connecting the disconnected scenes of Smoking Causes Coughing is the Tobacco Force, five male and female avengers costumed like Power Rangers or Adult Mutant Ninja Turtles from a cheesy children’s show in skin-tight sky-blue and yellow spandex with white full-face helmets. Their names are the harmful ingredients in cigarette smoke – Nicotine, Ammonia, Methanol, Mercury, etc (played by Gilles Lellouche, Vincent Lacoste, Anaïs Demoustier, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Oulaya Amamra). We first see them destroying a monster turtle (Olivier Afonso) that covers everyone in the vicinity with its exploding body parts.
The members of the Tobacco Force get their orders by video call from their boss, a randy, mangy puppet rat (Didier, voiced by comedian Alain Chabat) with green slime drooling from his mouth. Their assistant is a small self-destructive robot on wheels, Norbert 500.
Didier sends them on a retreat for a bonding week, during which they sit round a campfire at night by a lake telling horror stories that become films within a film. A random little girl passes by (don’t ask) and tells an ecological horror story. A talking barracuda on a barbecue starts to tell one.
The first story features a straight-faced Adèle Exarchopoulos (star of Blue is the Warmest Colour) obsessively wearing a ‘Thinking Helmet’ that she finds in the airing cupboard of an airbnb and which isolates her and turns her inventively murderous. That sets the tone, but what is to follow is even more horrible.
I can’t get some images out of my mind, particularly in the story starring Blanche Gardin as Michael’s aunt. (If you’re squeamish, look away now.)
There’s a weird dead-pan running thread of body horror and associated black humour in all the stories, mixed in with ecological warnings. Expect the unexpected, then strap in and enjoy the futuristic ride before the world comes to an end…
Smoking Causes Coughing premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and is released on 7 July 2023 in the UK.