“Reality” unfolds as a tapestry of very strange story strands that casually intersect and bleed into each other. They’re hard to parse, which makes Quentin Dupieux’s latest oddity a uniquely playful kind of moviegoing experience, much like his earlier cult comedies “Rubber” (2010) and “Wrong” (2012).
It goes something like this: A precocious little girl named Reality (Kyla Kenedy) finds a videotape inside the guts of a hog her father has slaughtered; a cooking show host (Jon Heder of “Napoleon Dynamite”) dressed in a giant rat suit has a form of eczema only he can see; French camera-operator Jason (Alain Chabat) wants to make a film about murderous television sets; and Reality’s school principal (Eric Wareheim) is plagued by dreams of cross-dressing. Are these episodic flights of fantasy reality, or wish-fulfillment?
Though shot around Los Angeles, where Dupieux is now based, the film exists somewhere outside time and place, similar to Antonioni’s cinematic vision of the world. The characters can’t seem to communicate with each other, whether they speak the same language or not. In one of the film’s highlights (video below), and perhaps the most personal for Dupieux, the cameraman turned screenwriter frustratedly attempts to pitch his movie, “Waves,” about the TVs that kill people. “The TV beams waves towards the people, and they bleed their guts out and die.”
The French producer (Jonathan Lambert) fielding the pitch likes the idea (“No hope? I like it”) but wants to know what noises the victims make when meeting their grisly fate. “I want an Oscar for that groan.” So Chabat’s character spends the rest of “Reality” looking for his groan, only to learn that his movie has already been made by somebody else. (And no, Dupieux insists, that’s not a reference to the Matteo Garrone film called “Reality” that also released the same year as “Wrong.”)
Dupieux’s first draft of the script was around 200 pages, with even more colorfully interlocking vignettes. But “Reality” began in earnest with this idea of pitching a movie to a producer, taking cues from Blake Edwards’ 1981 showbiz satire “S.O.B..” “I’d been through some absurd things like this in my real life,” Dupieux said. “After writing this long dialogue scene between the producer and Jason, I wasn’t just interested in talking about making movies. It’s a boring subject. Movies about movies are usually boring. But I was in love with this dialogue and had to find a way to mix this with different subjects.”
So Dupieux tapped into his early, admittedly more naive days as a young filmmaker selling his first picture, 2002’s cannily titled “Nonfilm.” “I had these absurd meetings with two French producers when I was trying to make my first picture, and it was impossible for me to pitch it,” he said, referring to the same kind of loop-de-loops of logic Chabat’s character endures during his pitch. “I was in front of the producer, trying to explain why it’s great but I was, I think, bad at it. I’ve been through these situations where you’re trying to explain what you want to do and the producer looks at you like you’re a freak. I quit pitching. I decided to write instead of trying to sell the idea.”
Dupieux also gets rattled by some of his bad reviews. There were a lot of them for “Wrong,” and “Reality” is certainly going to divide people. “A bad review is always a bad review,” Dupieux said. But “what’s really annoying is when they get nasty. I had the same for ‘Reality.’ We had some really mean reviews saying, ‘Dupieux is always doing this stuff,’ ‘there’s no point watching this,’ ‘it’s not even funny,’ ‘the writing is lame.’ It’s not affecting me: it’s just annoying. It’s just like, ‘Who the fuck are you? Just say you don’t like it, but don’t be mean.’ It’s just a movie. You don’t have to explain that I’m a piece of shit.”
“Reality” is now in theaters from IFC Midnight.