French surrealist Quentin Dupieux is not only one of the most prolific directors on the festival circuit (a new title almost every year, without fail), but one of the most consistent too. What started with his 2010 breakout – beautifully bonkers killer tyre movie Rubber – has since blown into an entire oeuvre of bizarro deadpan comedy, built on fascinating hooks, and satisfyingly short run times. And while his latest, a semi-satirical swipe at superhero culture, is very much more of the same (baffling jokes told in just over an hour), it’s also arguably Dupieux’s loudest and most openly entertaining in some time.

Hot on the heels of last summer’s somewhat understated Incredible But True (robotic-penis subplot aside), Smoking Causes Coughing wastes no time at all doling out the silliness, opening on a rubber-suited super team blowing a giant tortoise-man into bloody chunks, with their combined tobacco powers. But it’s not all victory dances and celebratory high-fives for the Tobacco Force five. The Chief (a womanising rat with a saliva problem, played by a garish children’s puppet from the 1970s) thinks they’re becoming too individualistic, dispatching the heroes on a team-building vacation to focus their strength, before taking on a world-threatening lizard man (who, it works out, is decidedly more man, than lizard) .

Smoking Causes Coughing 2What follows is an existential live-action cartoon; a New Wave Power Rangers, complete with educational nods (“smoking’s not cool, kids”), and an aged-up cast struggling to fathom their own humanity, in amongst all the planet stopping mayhem. It goes without saying that if any of that seems even remotely funny to you, Smoking Causes Coughing will be a blast.

Even when the film follows an unwieldy off-shoot, dropping in a handful of unrelated shorts masquerading as campfire stories (one delivered by a sizzling barracuda), there’s plenty of laughs to be had in the deliberate randomness of it all, as well as the bolted-on material itself.

With the full feature running at just over 70 minutes (with credits) these sections do feel a little like Dupieux padding for time. His ideas often begin, much like this one, with a terrific hook, that fades mid-way through their second act. And while Smoking Causes Coughing doesn’t have an awful lot for its characters to say or do, it does manage to bring things full circle in a way that’s both impactful and, naturally, unexpected.

Smoking Causes Coughing 2It’s certainly still angled more towards left-field laughs, over any sense of traditional plotting or character arcs. But the final image alone – carrying through to a tiny after-credits coda – is as sharp and funny as anything that came before it. A full stop on a meaty punchline, over simply just fading out a well-worn joke.

It might never exactly get under the skin (or even the suits) of its brilliantly wacky super-team set-up, but Smoking Causes Coughing is as persistently absurd and silly as one would expect from a talent like Dupieux, and continues to mark him as one of the most exciting and dependable surrealists around.

Smoking Causes Coughing screened as part of FrightFest Glasgow 2023.

Smoking Causes Coughing
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smoking-causes-coughing-reviewAs persistently absurd and silly as you’d expect from a name like Quentin Dupieux - one of the most exciting and dependable surrealists around.