Situated a couple of streets back from the Croisette and the imposing structure of the Palais, where the main Cannes action goes down, stands the Olympia, an emporium that houses nine relatively compact theatres in which you can check out festival product. The excitement was focused on Theatre Five this afternoon, as it played host to the psychic, psychotic tyre of Rubber.
With 130 seats, Theatre Five has by no means the smallest capacity at the Olympia, while still being a bit of a whiz into the waves when you consider that the Grand Theatre Lumière can accommodate 2,300 derrieres. In its own way though, Rubber is a keenly anticipated movie, and in the run-up to today's 4 o'clock screening, the already bijou Olympia lobby was just plain crowded. Spaces at the screening certainly looked likely to be at a premium.
So why all the excitement? Well, there is an obvious fanboy appeal to a postmodern monster movie story about a killer tyre rolling through the American desert, using its psychokinetic powers to inflict Scanners-style carnage. Rubber possesses an air of Gallic cool about it too, it being the brainchild of Quentin Dupieux aka Mr. Oizo. Yup, for those who haven't been keeping up with Mr. Oizo since he managed to get an ear-bleedingly dreadful dance record to number one in the charts on the basis of said record's association with a head-bobbing yellow puppet, he has since branched out into movie-making, with Rubber representing his second feature outing as director.
Of course, not everyone in the burgeoning crowd was necessarily there to check out the killer tyre movie. After all, Wolf, starring Peter Stormare, was playing in the adjacent Theatre Six. Disappointingly not a biopic of the bad old man from TV's Gladiators, this Swedish production is instead about Nejal, who (according to the blurb printed in today's Cannes edition of Screen Daily) 'has an unlimited admiration for his uncle, Klemens, a solitary man who is taking care of his brother's small herd of reindeer after losing his own.'
With an arresting premise like that, it was no wonder that the usher for Theatre Six was concerned that keen Wolf viewers may be getting lost within the Rubber throng. “Anybody here for Wolf?” he yelled out over the chatter in the lobby. The noise continued, no-one responding to his inquiry. Another attempt. “Anybody here for Wolf?” That time an American replied, “What time does that start?” The usher had him on the line, all he now needed to do is reel him in, “Starting now.” The American nodded and said, “Okay”, remaining where he was, waiting access to Rubber with the rest of us. The Theatre Six usher admitted defeat and returned to the desk in front of his empty cinema.
Having resisted the siren call of Wolf, we were all finally shown into the really rather homely Theatre Five, and settled down in our seats. One of the special screenings in Critic's Week, Rubber was showcased at the Miramar on Saturday night. The first scene very much sets the tone and serves notice this is far from the simple monster movie lampoon suggested by the teaser trailer.
We open: a man stands on a desert road, clutching handfuls of binoculars. Arrayed in the road are a pattern of black chairs. A car appears and proceeds to weave from side to side, making sure it knocks down each of the chairs. This mission accomplished, the car halts and from the trunk emerges a fully uniformed cop (played by Stephen Spinella). He takes a glass of water from the driver and launches into an address seemingly aimed directly at we viewers seated in Theatre Five.
He names a number of movies and a number of things about those movies which he suggests have no discernible reason behind them (why is E.T. brown? is one). He concludes by noting that the movie we are about to watch is “an homage to no reason, that powerful element of style.” We swiftly realise that it was not us the lawman was talking to, but an audience within the diagesis, who watch the unfolding events through binoculars, and comment on what happens.
What does happen is that a tyre rises of its own accord from a junkyard and proceeds to roll forth. After making a rabbit and a bird explode, it begins to grow interested in humanity - in particular a young woman played by Roxane Mesquida, who I had seen playing a horny sorceress just two days previously in Gregg Araki's Kaboom. As the tyre begins popping skulls like a stroppy git popping balloons with a cigarette, the crowd watching through their binoculars find that they are not just observers, they are instead becoming increasingly entangled in the central narrative.
To be honest, Rubber doesn't really work too well. Though Dupieux invests his rubber protagonist with a surprising amount of character, the conceit of the killer tyre grows uninteresting well before the finale, and the business with the crowd commentating on the action is off-putting and rather smug. This aspect feels like something a particularly pretentious film student would conjure up, convinced it was a devastating critique of narrative expectations, in reality it being scarcely amusing.
Still, it is a movie about a rubber tyre with massive psychic powers. And even in a market as overladen with product as Cannes, there can't be too many films with remotely comparable ideas behind them. Meaning that while Rubber is somewhat tyre-some (chortle), there is still a sense of novelty about it - the novelty, more than anything else, being what ensured Olympia Theatre Six was packed out this afternoon.