Beauty Secrets: Dupieux Latest a Strangely Tragic Fable on Human Foibles
The films of Quentin Dupieux, a prolific Belgian director who has spent most of the last decade using absurdity to poke at social mores and play with convention, are often so silly they are (sometimes mistakenly) brilliant. But even at his most frivolous (such as 2019’s Deerskin – read review), there’s something always innately charming about his notable ensembles, with actors seeming to relish playing straight-faced kooks. His latest in a rash of increasingly prolific output is Incroyable Mais Vrai (Incredible But True), a mere wisp of a film at seventy-four minutes, and yet, perhaps Dupieux’s most level headed and cohesive narrative to date. Ultimately something of a moral fable, it’s comedy hour in The Twilight Zone whenever Dupieux is on deck, reuniting with some of his alumni to create a superbly droll lesson on the powerful allure of beautiful facades.
Alain (Alain Chabat) and Marie (Léa Drucker) have found a dream home in the suburbs. Their real estate agent confirms a few special amenities which seal the deal for the childless couple. In the basement of the house is a duct leading to a whole other pristine house existing in a sort of fairy tale bubble wherein it’s twelve hours later but those who occupy its climate become three days younger. As a housewarming, they invite Alain’s irksome boss Gerard (Benoît Magimel) and his girlfriend Jeanne (Anaïs Demoustier) over for dinner. Gerard seems proud to announce he’s had an electric penis installed in his groin (the only problem being it’s not EU approved, requiring him to go to Japan any time it needs maintenance), but Marie declines to share their own incredible but true reality with them. Each couple eventually find themselves in a chaotic environment as their newfound plaything begins to wreak havoc on their mental and physical states.
Eventually, Incredible But True positions itself as a tale of two couples, each featuring a marginally more level-headed cohort while the selfish desires of the other drives them to tragedy. The narrative could have easily been called Be Careful What You Wish For with its parallel characters going out of their way to engage in ‘untested’ regimens allowing them to reclaim the semblance of youth, the long-term physical health effects be damned.
Dupieux’s title doubles as reference to the electric penis transplant purchased by Magimel, but more so, the lavish upside-down world accessed through Alain and Marie’s cellar (clearly, they’re a couple unfamiliar with Lucio Fulci cinema considering the duct in their basement looks like a demure gateway to hell). If Magimel’s storyline plays more like a running gag, the downfall of Marie earns comparisons to existentially minded genre films like The Enchanted Cottage (1945) or The One I Love (2014), where a secluded house offers strange, potentially dangerous sanctuary to the couple occupying it.
Chabat is his usually relatable self, a bit more obsequious than his turn in Dupieux’s previous pinnacle, 2014’s Reality. Drucker has more room to play, whose final descent into the deep end plays like a Tennessee Williams’ montage by the finale. Though she feels a bit underutilized, Demoustier (who previously appeared in Dupieux’s Keep an Eye Out, 2018) seems to be having a lot of fun as a ditzy nymphette whose blonde coiffure (and sexual proclivities) recall 80s characters played by Isabelle Huppert in titles like Sincerely, Charlotte and Sac de noeuds (both 1985).
Arguably a bit slight considering the observations on our conditioned obsession with youth, beauty, and virility (especially in the third act, which feels like Dupieux rushes to the finish line), there’s an unexpected girth to the subtexts in Incredible But True, which closes upon twin segments of logical yet somehow troubling tragedy.
Reviewed on February 11th at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival – Berlinale Special Gala Section. 74 mins.