Make Believe Seattle 2023 Review: SMOKING CAUSES COUGHING, Obviously
The first several moments of Quentin Dupieux’s newest feature, Smoking Causes Coughing, feature a quintet of superheroes (Gilles Lellouche, Anaïs Demoustier, Vincent Lacoste, Jean-Pascal Zadi, and Oulaya Amamra) battling a ferocious turtle monster before blowing it to bits, and obliging a traveling family’s request for a photo op for their son. The ceremonial confab ends with one of the team members revealing the secret to their powers, contextualizing with a PSA to the young boy about the importance of growing up with healthy lungs unlike his “idiot” father, seen smoking in the backdrop.
In jocular fashion, that’s the big setup for the greater plot twists that await our protagonists following their deadly battle as their leader, Chief Didier, assigns them to a remote lakeside retreat to vacation, as a means of improving their teamwork. He’s not wrong either; team morale is still there, but as the first battle scene shows, there’s definitely a small crack in the hull of the team, coupled with a distinct air of complacency from at least one of the members.
The nights are spent sharing scary stories over a campfire, until one neighboring family’s little girl pays a visit to the confab with a story of her own that all but kills the mostly exasperated team’s mood. The stories are interesting points to note though: one story focuses on a couples’ getaway that ends gruesomely following a woman’s reluctance to remove a suspicious helmet, and another centers on a fish swimming through cloudy water.
The only other areas of intrigue are some of the internal struggles shared by the team, but the biggest twist is yet to come when the team’s latest threat is already on the way planning to destroy Earth. Without giving too much else away, this is what Dupieux’s Smoking Causes Coughing offers in its seventy-nine-minute runtime, with a look and treatment that pays homage to classic puppetry and horror, tokusatsu and sixties sci-fi with ample absurdity to match some of the pathos. The story about the woman with the helmet is especially compelling given that its setup by one character’s criticism of the moviegoing experience in a theatrical setting compared to a home setup with a large television.
Dupieux’s script is quick to show you what you’re info going into the first ten minutes though. Scenes of science fiction cheese and rubber monster suits be damned, you get a few bucketfuls of gonzo horror mixed in, and the first fight scene is a blast to watch. In addition to the aforementioned exploding monster, there’s a fish that talks as it’s being grilled, with that fish telling a story about one man’s unfortunate reduction only to a mouth after a seemingly pain-free accident on a very important day.
Culminating all of this is an end sequence that sort of almost reminds you of what happens at the end of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. It’s as hilarious and unnerving as it is truth-telling per the film’s suggestive message regarding work. Indeed, and in my view, it’s not entirely about the smoking though, but you’re welcome to filter that notion any way you please. Your lungs are your business and we’re all adults (provided you’re an adult reading this, and not a non-smoking minor getting ideas about smoking, in which case, don’t, as this isn’t an endorsement. IJS.)
Smoking Causes Coughing was screened for the 2nd annual Make Believe Seattle Film Festival.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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