Until now, quirky French artist, electro-house musician, and filmmaker Quentin Dupieux—more commonly known as “Mr. Oizo”—had reached his widest audience with a series of Levi’s commercials featuring a head-banging yellow puppet. His career should only get stranger with his Cannes-approved feature Rubber, a truly WTF comic thriller about a tire that springs to life and rolls through the desert, blowing people’s heads up with its psychokinetic powers. I sat down with Dupieux near Chelsea to discuss his reason for making a film that boasts having “no reason.”
The premise seems like the result of a Mad Libs exercise. Why a tire? At first, I wanted to make a story called Day of the Cubes, about a space invasion. One day, people wake up and there are cubes floating everywhere. I started to write this and did some tests, but it was boring to shoot empty spaces and then create the whole thing on a computer. I decided I should go back to something I know: this commercial with a puppet—a real object that you can shoot and hire someone off-frame to operate by remote control. I had to think about something that has emotion, and I instantly had a vision of a tire slowly following someone.
But with no face, isn’t it hard to convey emotion beyond movement and speed? It was almost impossible to give it intentions. Because of its size and the way it stands, the only reference we had was a dog. When it’s watching the girl in the shower, it’s leaning in a little bit to push the door, just like a dog. After that, there’s not much you can do. It has no face, so when it sees a plastic bottle and decides to squish it, the audience makes the movie because they create the feeling.
Within the film, there are spectators watching the events unfold, plus an opening monologue about why this story has “no reason.” Did you always plan the film to be so self-aware? Yes. I started with the tire story and then had to decide, “Why is the tire alive?” I thought it was terrible to explain this, so I needed to create a guide to avoid questions like this because I knew people were aware. I wrote this monologue to give a tone, some rules, and basically invite the audience: “Come in, it’s gonna be fun.” I didn’t want to make Halloween with a tire, and I didn’t want to [use this premise] without making fun of it. So the absurdity of the tire is one thing, but there’s another absurdity: people watching the movie with binoculars in the middle of nowhere. I thought, OK, I have good theater here. I can play with my dolls, and that was exciting.
Do you feel there’s thought or memory in lifeless objects? I’m wondering about this chair, for example. What is it like to be a chair made of wood? I don’t know. The idea [for Rubber] was good because there’s something dangerous about a tire.