It wasn’t until after watching director Quentin Dupieux’s KEEP AN EYE OUT that I learned of his illustrious past: he was Mr. Oizo. Yes, he was responsible for that adorable, headbanging puppet and the endlessly addictive 1999 song that went along with it, “Flat Beat”. If I ever made a prediction about Mr. Oizo’s career, I’m not sure I would have included black comedy/crime films, but here we are, almost 20 years later, and now we have KEEP AN EYE OUT.
Dupieux is clearly a fan of 1970s French police cinema, and this film is his love letter to the genre. The 70’s aesthetic is strong, right down to the thick mustaches and high turtlenecks. Fugain (Grégoire Ludig) goes to the police station to file a report about a corpse he found on the sidewalk outside his building. The deceased appears to have been killed by a falling flower pot, and what starts as a report becomes an interrogation led by Chief Inspector Buron (Benoit Poelvoorde).
It’s not long before things go south. Fugain is left alone with adjutant Philippe, a man who takes everything literally, right down to literally keeping an eye out; one of his eyes is prosthetic. Philippe, who clearly has poor depth perception, trips over an open filing cabinet and takes a metal protractor to the brain. Fugain hides the body in a locker, and the comic tension ratchets up from there.
Dupieux’s sense of humor oscillates between very dry, very French dialogues and the completely surreal. The film opens inexplicably with a man conducting an orchestra dressed only in tight red underwear. You can wait for an explanation as to why, but you’ll never get one. The cast is eccentric and has some genuinely funny moments. Poelvoorde’s character emits cigarette smoke from his chest through an old bullet wound, and his nonchalance about what is clearly a bizarre physiological phenomenon and Fugain’s concerned reaction is enough to elicit a good laugh. Much of the film’s humor is along similar lines.
The background is provided through flashbacks, as Fugain attempts to piece together the puzzle under duress. Buron actually appears in these flashbacks, continuing his interrogation. Fugain recalls phoning 911 as the inspector looks on suspiciously. The pair exchange glances, Fugain looking to Buron for approval, even though he wasn’t present at the actual event. It’s an interesting technique that leaves the characters in the interrogation room, but interacting in a sort of theater of the mind.
There are a few strange character choices throughout that didn’t make a great deal of sense to me while watching, but it turns out nothing really matters in the end. It culminates in an unbelievably smug final 10 minutes that subverts all events that came before. It’s actually tough to talk about the film without discussing what happens in detail, and doing so would ruin the “surprise”.
Let’s say that when the curtain comes up, we’re left as confused as the main character, and depending on your predisposition, confusion may turn to anger and frustration at wasting your hour and six minutes. That’s right. An hour and six minutes. It’s an incredibly short film, and maybe that was a tactic? If the audience had sunk more time in, the reaction to this sort of ending could be violent, and we know what French crowds are capable of. No one wants a revolution in the cinema. Well, not that kind of revolution anyway.
The real meaning of KEEP AN EYE OUT is open for wildly varying interpretation, but the humor and interactions of the cast are enough to drag the audience throughout the absurdity and vagaries. It’s worth your hour and 6 minutes to make up your own mind.
KEEP AN EYE OUT was part of the lineup at Fantastic Fest 2018.