At least as much of its hundred two minutes in California-hills American as subtitled French, Reality/Réalité is a wow Closing Night for the Film Society of Lincoln Center twentieth “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.”
Director-writer Quentin Dupieux wears his other habitual hats, too, as cinematographer, music composer and editor of this seriocomic satire investigation of dream/illusion/truth, film as illusion/reality and the filmmaker as sleight-of-eye master.
An in-film marquee slyly lists Rubber 2 among three features, but the theater also shows unlisted poster-advertised Waves -- “like microwaves” which fry brains and innards -- TV cameraman and aspiring screenwriter-director Jason Tantra’s (Alain Chabat) idea which has not yet been contracted with producer Bob Marshall (Jonathan Lambert) or even actually scripted or cast or made, so “it doesn’t exist yet.” Rubber, Dupieux’s 2010 Venus flytrap horror takeoff about a homicidal tire, has an internal “real” movie watched by actor-spectators while it is being shot and opens with a faux sheriff who cautions that the larger movie to follow has absolutely “no reason to exist.”
Several unconnected stories are somehow to be connected here in this new work, perhaps the whole being a film made by ex-documentarist “picked out of the gutter” Zog (John Glover), himself perhaps a stand-in for Dupieux’s alter ego Mr. Oizo and screening his work for bored impatient Marshall. Only at the end does that film-within-this-film unreel to reveal the contents of a VHS tape which a sleeping or dreaming or awake girl named Reality (Kyla Kenedy) gets to play after several failed attempts and which may, or may not, reflect another dream/illusion/reality already on the movie screen.
Later, cassette-recording screams and moans to include in his proposed sci-fi gore about people “made stupid” by TV and then zapped as in J-horror and its U.S. clones, Jason has awards-ceremony nightmares and walks into an earlier scene with Reality and her taxidermist father (Matt Battaglia) who shoots the hog-boar in whose viscera she notices and appropriates the video tape. With Marshall and the audience, she, too, is burning to watch it, but Zog and his cameraman are also camped out in her bedroom and soon snoring after admonishing patience in her as well.
Jason is approached by but dismisses Dennis (Jon Heder), a rat-costumed “interior eczema” scratching TV host whom he films as a day job and who suggests that they two are really the same person. Jason’s analyst wife Alice (Élodie Bouchez) is none too pleased with his apparently mad antics and embarrassed by them in public theaters and in her private practice with patient Henri (Eric Wareheim), a closet queen who shouts obscenities at an elderly stranger and who has been spotted and recognized by Reality as her school superintendant in drag in an open jeep.
Ratty Dennis seeks itch relief from his rash no one else can see or sympathize with, Jason dead faints twice but is possessed by the hunt for the “the best groan in movie history,” Marshall alternately insists on lighting cigars or cigarettes and immediately clears the air of smoke before telescopic-sight picking off surfers, and obscene unruffled “genius” Zog counsels waiting for his dénouement.
Called a “multi-threaded Lynchian house of mirrors,” quirky innovative like Carax or Cronenberg, Altmanesque in juxtaposing and incidentally relating unrelated mosaic pieces, and homage to B-movies, Reality is in reality sui generis. Take this Venice Official Selection as nothing, as fun and little more, some shticks working and others not, as satire or exposé or as deep-down profound, it is a film hard not to react to, either walk out on or embrace. Reality the girl character and sympathetic viewers itch to see the contents of the gutsy video, static and all.
(Released by IFC Midnight; not rated by MPAA.)