Incredible But True brings a new level of silliness to the concept of time-travel

Quentin Dupieux lays the symbolism on thick in an absurdist comedy featuring a life-altering basement time-portal and a man with a three-speed robot penis.

1 March 2022

By Lou Thomas

Léa Drucker and Alain Chabat in Incredible But True (2022)Léa Drucker and Alain Chabat in Incredible But True (2022) © Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
Sight and Sound
  • Reviewed from the 2022 Berlinale. 

French auteur Quentin Dupieux has dialled down his trademark absurdity ever so slightly for his tenth feature, a comic parable about two couples approaching their suburban lives with a mix of acquiescence and tragic denial. ‘Slightly’ is a key modifier here. While Incredible But True lacks the wild invention of Dupieux’s Mandibles (2020) or Deerskin (2019), it does include a prominent character with an electronic, three-speed penis that can be steered by phone.

Affable insurance broker Alain (Alain Chabat) and his wife Marie (Léa Drucker) move into a well-appointed two-storey home, having been impressed by a time-travelling duct in the basement that somehow leads down into the same house, only 12 hours later.

What evidently clinched the deal was the property’s other temporal quirk: anyone who climbs into the duct and down the ladder also becomes three days younger. Alain pays little attention to this remarkable feature in his abode, while Marie quickly becomes obsessed, frequently disappearing down the ladder in a desperate bid to become a young, famous model.

Alain, though increasingly concerned with his wife, has to deal with his boss Gerald, the man with aforementioned steer-able penis (played with comedy-infused anger and despair by Benoît Magimel). There are complications with the digital appendage and Gerald has to visit Japan where it was manufactured to get it fixed. In Gerald’s absence, his lascivious girlfriend Jeanne (Anaïs Demoustier) gropes Alain in the lingerie shop she runs, only adding to Alain’s mounting complications.

The outlandish time-bending house and replacement penis quite clearly illustrate Jeanne’s desperate desire to regain her youthful beauty and Gerald’s insecure masculinity. The point is hammered home with Gerald’s desire to show off his powerful new cars and when he takes Alain to a gun range, only to be knocked off his feet by the force of a shotgun’s recoil – the big, frightening weapon too much for him as he tries to overcompensate.

If the symbolism is a touch too on the nose, Dupieux can be forgiven. His work is rarely subtle and his audiences have come to expect primarily odd, funny stories told at a brisk pace, something Incredible But True exemplifies.

Throughout the film’s lean 74 minutes, Dupieux coaxes four strong core performances, while the jaunty bounce of Jon Santo’s synth-led score mirrors the film’s cheerful weirdness. Santo’s music is used most effectively in an engaging 10-minute montage towards the film’s conclusion. As all other sound drops out, Dupieux focuses on Gerald and Marie learning the hard lesson that should be on every school curriculum: getting what you want doesn’t always make you happy.

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