If the video is still active, you can see Nonfilm in its entirety above this review.
When I started this site a year ago, I knew going into the project that it was flying directly in the face of traditional wisdom. Every “how to make a movie review website” guide on the web declared that you’ve got to have a niche or else you’re sunk. Many, dare I say most, critics’ sites tend to focus on new releases. As a part-time critic with limited discretionary income, regularly viewing new releases was not a viable business plan. I briefly considered limiting the website’s content to Christian film reviews (Glasgow Tell It On the Mountain?), as it had long been a hobby of mine and this would give the site more niche appeal, but I ultimately decided to take a far more radical approach: I would review whatever the hell I wanted to.
I wanted to collect random reviews so that when somebody gets done watching Vibes and wants to talk about it, they can find it here. To that end, I created the Letter Game in the hopes that I would be more apt to view and write about films I would otherwise have avoided or neglected to return to. I wanted to write about the films that intrigue me and the films that intrigue the people who come to visit the site. It’s not about telling people what they should see or catering to some niche market; it’s about opening up the doors and letting everything in. Glasgow to the movies, as a whole. Interestingly, it was as I was formulating these thoughts that director Phil Leirness, friend of GTTM, wrote in praise of this site that he encourages “those…who love movies to find critics who write (or speak) about films in a way that is personally pleasing and who might help you discover cinematic gems that had been previously unknown to you.” That is part of this site’s goal.
With all that said, director Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber was the best film of 2011, and it’s a pleasure to be able to talk about the man’s work again. Nonfilm is a short, only about forty-seven minutes long, but it’s got the same signature style that made Rubber a masterpiece. It’s a surreal piece, rightly described by Dupieux himself as “Rubber‘s handicapped brother.” It certainly takes some patience and perseverance, but the overall feel of the piece is exhilaration: it’s easy to imagine fans of Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry gravitating toward this work. Christ, I’d love to see Dupieux work with Charlie Kaufman.
At the outset, a man wakes up from the backseat of a car. He gets up, groggily walking through a desert town while a camera crew dollies behind him, watching his every move. When he tries to leave the scene, they smash him on the back of the head with a brick and carry him back to the car. Take 2. As in Rubber, the characters here are both part of a movie and not. Looking for a line between “reality” and “fiction” is a fool’s errand, as a character can rail against the others for not explaining the scene fully, then be asked to repeat the tirade for a second take. One man complains that his character was supposed to be the one to fire a machine gun in celebration and demands the script be revised to accommodate him. A crew member explains that it may be difficult to make the change because there are certain safety precautions that have to be explained. He stops. “Can we do that again? I said safety instead of security.” The camera stops rolling, the rest of the cast mills about waiting for the scene to resume.
Though the plot is deliciously, deliriously surreal, the video is also incredibly funny. The demented humor is exemplified by the fact that the thumbnail I’ve chosen to accompany this review – a barren landscape – is one of the funniest moments in the movie. Nobody is quite sure where or how to draw the line between fantasy and reality, so that when the director instructs one actor to strangle himself, the way he uncertainly grabs his neck with one hand is hilarious. “Why?” he thinks to ask his director. “For the film,” comes the response. Even as things spin out of control, to the point that there is no longer a camera or sound crew, those remaining plug along. One of the few crew members left asks the director whether they should continue with no camera. “Yes, the audience will understand,” the man wisely rationalizes.
If it’s the right audience, they will understand. They’ll understand that the refrain “no reason” from Rubber was not just a joke or an excuse to be weird, but instead a battle cry. It’s Dupieux’s calling card, his medium. It cannot be boiled down to the simplistic idea things happen for no reason, an aesthetic explored for fast-paced stoner comedy by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Although that’s certainly an aspect of Dupieux’s work, the concept encompasses far more than that. His is no reason at the molecular level, no sense of reason holding the world together. I wrote that Rubber has “a playful relationship with the very fabric of existence”, and though Nonfilm doesn’t necessarily reach those same heights, its loose conception of the meaning of “film” is scattered and bizarre and endlessly enjoyable. The fact that, despite its title, the movie was shot on 16mm film rather than video is just another wonderful bit of meta-humor.
The man is a visionary. His work is phenomenal. I’ll allow the director himself to have the last words:
NONFILM is great if you know how to watch it. TRY.