Steak: The Birth of An Absurdist Cult Icon
Quentin Dupieux (AKA Mr Oizo) is carving quite the niche for himself in the world of absurdist cult filmmaking. His latest film, Rubber, is an absolute sensation. A Dadaist miracle that turns an inane concept (a psychokinetic killer tyre on a rampage) into a postmodern masterpiece (read my thoughts on it here). After much searching I finally got a chance to see his first feature film entitled Steak, which came out in 2007 to such a decidedly mixed response that it barely got released anywhere outside of France.
In many ways Steak is a much weirder film than Rubber. It is just as minimal and absurd as his more recent film but it's less overt and defiantly impenetrable. Steak is essentially a giant in-joke and those who aren't privy to the small circle of people who "get it" will find the film boring and unpleasant. I'm not sure if I entirely "got it" but I did find it consistently interesting. This is a film that knows exactly what it is doing and doesn't care if its audience is following it or not.
Dupieux sets his film in a slightly off-centre future reality. His world is a little like an absurdist combination of Happy Days and A Clockwork Orange. Very few adults are present in this 50s styled universe full of gangs, Ford pickup trucks and pool halls. Everyone seems to obsess over their youthful looks resulting in extreme face-lifts becoming a regular obsession. Milk is the drink of choice for the cool kids and smoking is profoundly unhip.
Steak opens with Georges on his way to school. He comes across the scene of a car accident and amongst the wreckage finds a machine gun. Happy with his discovery he continues on to class. Throughout the day Georges is mercilessly bullied by a group of kids. He follows the bullies as they walk home and kills them all with his newly found machine gun. As he wanders off in a trance his friend Blaise shows up. Thinking the gun is a toy Blaise takes it off Georges and plays around with it just as the cops pull up. Blaise is mistaken for the murderer and sent off to a mental asylum for the next 7 years.
The world Blaise returns to as he gets released is seemingly very different to the world he used to know. Georges has undergone an extreme facelift and his face is covered in bandages. He also is apparently still in school and vying for membership to a gang called the Chivers who act like they are straight out of a 50s gang movie.
Despite the above description only really covering the first 20 minutes of the film, there isn't much plot here. Dupieux is less interested in telling a conventional story and more concerned with evoking a type of absurdist atmosphere that is entirely unique. Conversations begin and end with non-sequitors while characters engage in behaviours that make no sense at all (see clip below for a weird clockwork orangey moment. Even if the scene was subtitled it wouldn't make much more sense).
Dupieux cast the central duo in his film using famous French comedians Eric & Ramzy. These guys can be best described as the French Hamish and Andy (apologies to my international readers for the Australian analogy). Having such a popular and broad comedy duo star in this film is probably one of the reasons it was a mild failure in its home country. Steak is an obscure and inaccessible art house comedy essentially and not the ball of hilarity that fans of the duo would expect. International audiences actually have a much better chance of approaching the film on its own merits without the baggage of knowing its central duo.
Now that Dupieux has broken out with Rubber I think Steak will be understood a lot better as the two films have a remarkable similarity in tone and pace. Dupieux is really growing as an interesting filmmaker who is carving a niche with his unique brand of dry absurdity. He has a fascination with American iconography that is filtered through an odd French aesthetic sensibility that results in a very unique take on classic Americana. Those that know Dupieux's musical alter-ego Mr Oizo will understand his talent in producing electronic music but his skill as a filmmaker is in my opinion eclipsing anything he has done in music. Remember the hit song Flat Beat (see below), well Dupieux has even made a short film expanding upon the classic puppet character from that clip (see below). Again the visuals and tone are so spot on that I'm one more film away from becoming a solid fan of Dupieux.
Back onto Steak though. It is a tough film to love as it relentlessly refuses to give its audience a conventional experience but those attuned to its wavelength will find a lot to enjoy here (its IMDB rating is bang in the middle at 5 but when you break it down it has as many people giving it 10/10 as people giving it 1/10. That should give some kind of impression as to the love or hate element going on here).
Dupieux has spoken in interviews about his frustration with his producers refusing to release the film internationally. It seems they were only interested in a local French release and the film has slipped through the cracks. There is a DVD with English subtitles floating around and it can be ordered off amazon.ca but that is the only way to get it which is a shame. Hopefully as Rubber gets a wide release later this year we see Steak reappear as it is definitely the birth of a fascinating and defiantly iconoclastic film talent.