It’s the end of the day, and you’re being questioned by the police. There's no end in sight. You’re tired, hungry as hell, and thanks to a lack of windows, unable to tell what time it is. Worst of all, every single police officer in the station is quietly bonkers. It’d be surprising if things didn’t get weird.
That’s the situation faced by hapless, moustachioed Fuguain (Gregoire Ludig) in Quentin Dupieux’s latest film Au Poste! (Keep An Eye Out! in English). He’s been hauled in to give a statement about a corpse he found - which quickly turns into a banal, exhaustive description of his whole evening, involving a cockroach, a bag of chips, and a TV show about horses. When he's left alone with a paranoid deputy, who promptly has a hilarious and fatal accident, Fuguain suddenly finds himself with not one, but two unexplained corpses on his hands.
A mostly single-location film built around Fuguain’s interrogation, Keep An Eye Out! is an absurd and often surreal comedy with some clever ideas tucked away inside. On its most basic level, it’s a low-key comic thriller, with the innocent Fuguain constantly under threat of being made to look guilty. Even when exonerating evidence comes out - exceptionally gross exonerating evidence - his interrogator Commissaire Buron (Man Bites Dog's Benoît Poelvoorde, increasingly George C. Scott-like) continues to grill him. Ludig is a fine straight man - and he has to be, for his predicament grows stranger as the film progresses.
Dupieux has lost none of his touch for memorable imagery: a man conducting an orchestra in a roadside meadow in his underwear, a police officer blowing cigarette smoke out through a hole in his chest, a deputy with one eye covered over with skin. Keep An Eye Out! also displays Dupieux’s talent for absurdist dialogue. Characters quibble over semantics, agonise over word meanings and misuses of idioms, and engage in otherwise infuriatingly banal exchanges that invoke a pleasantly funny, Pinteresque sense of bewilderment. Others drop massive bombs into conversation with a shrug, like the Commissaire’s casually suicidal son. It’s all very odd.
Dupieux has never stylised his images much, from Steak to Rubber to Wrong Cops, instead matter-of-factly dropping strange scenarios onscreen, and he hasn’t changed approach here. Evenly-lit and conventionally-shot, the film is driven entirely by a talented troupe of actors delivering what could easily make for an engaging stage play. But it’s still got a few cinematic tricks up its sleeve.
As Keep An Eye Out! plows through its short running time, it starts to morph from a chamber piece into something more narratively abstract. Given that his film is made up mostly of men telling stories to each other, Dupieux puts several twists upon the notion of memory and the cinematic convention of flashback. Characters from the present-day action invade each other’s flashbacks - having conversations with each other, commenting on details, and even criticising them for being boring. Other flashbacks are revealed to be completely false. “Unreliable narrator” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
By the time Dupieux drops the audience into a literal fourth-wall-lifting climax and self-reflexive denouement, he’s truly messed with traditional notions of cinematic storytelling. Telling stories is something we do all the time, and there are many ways to go about it. Keep An Eye Out! tears those conventions to pieces - and it’s fucking funny while it does it.