The films of France’s Quentin Dupieux are short and blissfully strange: Their subjects include a homicidal automobile tire (“Rubber,” 2010) and a fringed leather jacket with a God complex (“Deerskin,” 2019). They operate according to their own interior logic and they don’t care if you follow along, which makes them either maddeningly obtuse or good Dada fun, depending on your tastes. “Keep an Eye Out,” made before “Deerskin” but arriving now in a virtual screening at the Boston French Film Festival, the Brattle Theatre, and on demand, is Dupieux’s most pared-down effort yet — a slapstick Kafkaesque comedy of bureaucracy and bloodshed.
Actually, it’s more as if Samuel Beckett had written an episode of “Brooklyn Nine Nine” or “Barney Miller.” The bulk of “Keep an Eye Out” involves an officious and rather dense police detective (Benoît Poelvoorde) questioning Fugain (Grégoire Ludig), who has discovered a corpse outside his apartment building. Is the affably normal Fugain a witness or a suspect? His innocence takes a hit or two over the course of a very long night of questioning, and through no fault of his own he finds himself with an additional body to hide.
So there’s some stage-worthy farce involving a dead man in a locker that won’t stay closed, and there are further games that Dupieux plays with his characters’ heads and ours. A widow (Anaïs Demoustier) of one of the recently deceased keeps popping up in Fugain’s flashbacks, asking questions about things that haven’t happened yet (or already have, depending on which back you’re flashing). The sense that “Keep an Eye Out” creates of a nightmarish, endlessly spiraling time/space loop pays off with an ending I won’t spoil, other than to note that it’s not really an ending at all.
If you know Dupieux’s work, you’d better believe he means that title literally, and one of the film’s eeriest sights is Philippe (Marc Fraize), a police detective who was apparently born with only one eye, the other half of his face an unbroken expanse of skin. It’s an uncanny-valley effect that further unnerves the witness and that leads indirectly to a ghoulishly funny bit of business, one that traps Fugain more firmly in a web of dream-logic circumstance. Fittingly, there’s not a lot of depth to “Keep an Eye Out,” but there is a singular vision at work and at play.
KEEP AN EYE OUT
Written and directed by Quentin Dupieux. Starring Grégoire Ludig, Benoît Poelvoorde. Available for virtual screening via the Boston French Film Festival (March 3) and the Brattle Theatre (March 5); available on demand. In French, with subtitles. 73 minutes. Unrated (as PG-13: language, violence).