Smoking Causes Coughing, Quentin Dupieux’s absurdist satire of superhero sci-fi, packs an unexpected punch.

Systematically silly, SMOKING CAUSES COUGHING introduces us to “Tobacco Force”, France’s premier superhero team; wearers of spandex, defeaters of rubber monsters and moralisers on, ironically, the evils of smoking, there’s nothing they can’t do – except maintain team morale. Ordered by the slime-dribbling rat Chief Didier and assisted by their redoubtable robot chum Norbert, Tobacco Force heads off for a team bonding retreat, a retreat which takes several unexpected and seemingly arbitrary detours.

Part POWER RANGES parody, part Amicus-style horror anthology, part fond homage to B-movies in general and Gerry Anderson-style special effects in particular, SMOKING CAUSES COUGHING almost pathologically defies categorisation and, frequently, description.

Underpinning all of its surreal excesses and sharpened sense of the ridiculous is a pointed exploration of the underlying tensions, microaggressions, alliances and rivalries of workplace life. Layered on top of this is a series of vignettes where one character or another and, on one occasion, a fish regales the others (and us the audience) with tales of the weird, the bizarre and the macabre.

While the main feature or its near-FAMILY GUY style freewheeling cutaways stories maintain a deliberate lightness and sly amorality, as the film progresses it becomes increasingly uncomfortable to reconcile that tone with the commentary on societal corrosion, pollution, fidelity and ultimately environmental collapse. In fact, for all its sunny late-seventies demeanour, it leaves the audience with the much more prevalent bleakness of sci-fi in the pre-STAR WARS years.

Studiously unpredictable, tangential by design, SMOKING CAUSES COUGHING is an audacious shot across the bows of the (itself tired) concept of superhero fatigue, proving that there’s plenty of innovative life left in the genre; all that’s needed is the courage to go to strange new places to find it.

Smoking Causes Coughing Poster
Score 8


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