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Smoking Causes Coughing at SOHO House!

By Sara Clark

Soho House, West Hollywood - Prior to my attendance at the Los Angeles screening of the latest film from Quentin Dupieux, I googled “Smoking Causes Coughing Trailer”. Upon seeing the video icon of a puppet-like rat, picture Alf if he was fully shaved and gray, I admit my brain came to a screeching halt. Absent-mindedly my mouth emitted the single sound “Oh”, a mix of perplexity and surprise. It was certainly not what I was expecting. Before I get ahead of myself, “Smoking Causes Coughing” is an action/comedy French film headed by director Quentin Dupieuxn aka Mr. Oizo. The film centers around the Tobacco Forces, a group of tobacco-themed vigilante superheroes who fight against the forces of evil in matching cerulean blue and white jumpsuits. Starring French film industry veterans Gilles Lellouche (Benzène), Vincent Lacoste (Méthanol), Anaïs Demoustier (Nicotine), Oulaya Amamra (Ammoniaque), and relative newcomer Jean-Pascal Zadi (Mercure). All of the film's stars have over a decade of experience in the industry, and many of them have various awards and accolades for their acting on their IMDB. The IMDB summary of Smoking Causes Coughing is misleading. It would be a mistake to market this movie as a superhero film, it doesn’t follow the formula that we have long been taught by Marvel and DC. The first fifteen minutes of the film would certainly have you believe that this is a superhero story. It opens with our leads in battle with a giant turtle (or an actor in an obvious costume reminiscent of old Godzilla movies), where the Tobacco Forces use their combined chemical smoke emission rays to create a spectacular explosive end for the enemy. Post-battle, after taking a photo with a passing family who witnessed the fight, their leader Chief Didier tells them that his analysis of their latest fights shows a weakness in group cohesion. The rat puppet orders them to take a week-long retreat to rebuild their foundation as a team, “Only if you remain close-knit can you save the Earth.” The spoiler-free version of my summary is this: I would describe this film as a superhero team-building exercise with three short films shoved in throughout, in a spirit that reminds me of 1987’s Amazon Women on the Moon. The fact that they are a superhero team is almost irrelevant. They could be anything, a hedge fund investment firm on a corporate-mandated retreat, new-age hippies trying to reconnect with the earth, or a cult just before they drink the Kool-Aid to meet their alien Jesus. While diving into my internet research for this write-up, the words that kept popping up to describe Mr. Oizo’s style of filmmaking were “Surreal” “Absurd” and “Meta”, all of which would perfectly describe this film. If you are wondering if there is anything truly weird in cinema anymore, this movie will answer that question with a hearty “Yes.” If you like South Park, Rick, and Morty, and if you are a consumer of the wacky and truly strange, then do watch Smoking Causes Coughing. I struggle to say if it is bad or good, but it is unforgettable. If you wish for me to elaborate further with Spoilers, do continue reading. You could be forgiven for assuming that the film continues with the Avengers of Tobacco Force participating in corporate-like team-building exercises that will eventually be used to fight the big bad enemy Lézardin who threatens to destroy the planet. This assumption turns out to be only somewhat true, as the next parts of the film take us on possibly unrelated routes that take us away from the initial plot. The movie seems to signal that things are about to go off the rails as Tobacco Force’s robot assistant Norbert 500 wheels himself off into the water and drowns. (Chief Didier later informs Nicotine that the robot was programmed to commit suicide at the end of their previous mission, and a new robot would be sent.) I should note the one thing to remember regarding our main leads is the love triangle between Chief Didier (who I need to remind you is a drooling rat puppet), Nicotine, and Ammoniaque. I should say love Pentagon because Chief Didier is also shown in two instances with lovers in his bed as he video chats with Tobacco Force. If trying to comprehend that is causing your brain to go numb, I don’t think this is the movie for you. The team gathers around a campfire at the retreat, and leader Benzène decides it’s time to tell scary stories as they’ve arrived at Camp Crystal Lake. Benzène leads us to the first movie within the movie, as we are taken to the tale of two couples who meet a gruesome end during a weekend retreat of their own. Agathe and Bruno are joined by their mutual couple friends Tony and Celine. Upon arrival at their Airbnb, Agathe discovers a box with a helmet-like device from 1930. The box claims that the helmet is used to shut away outside noises and distractions to improve thinking and clarity. At some point during the group’s backyard picnic, Agathe dons the helmet and is immediately seduced by the silence and seclusion the helmet gives her.