Make Believe Seattle 2023 Review: Smoking Causes Coughing

If you’re in the Seattle area this weekend, Make Believe Seattle Film Festival is making its debut with a fascinating slate of genre films. One of the most intriguing selections is this new French film from auteur Quentin Dupieux, the twisted mind behind Rubber, Deerskin, and Mandibles.

Dupieux weaves a tale about a group of superheroes who battle baddies with their combined “tobacco forces”, with each member being named after one of the noxious elements in tobacco smoke. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds, especially when their first fight looks like something swept up off the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers cutting room floor, complete with goofy helmeted costumes and a rubber-suited enemy creature. The heroes don’t seem to have any heightened abilities or even athletic physiques, they just shoot poisonous gasses from hoses in their suits which work together to destroy their enemies with the full force of tobacco.

But here’s where it gets even weirder: instead of using a typical superhero movie blueprint, Dupieux follows up that introductory battle by sidelining his heroes for the rest of the film. They take off to a lake for a week-long retreat, hoping to recharge their team spirit before the next disaster. We don’t even spend much time with the heroes, as they soon begin sharing comedically creepy tales around a campfire that are played out in full onscreen, something like having a series of unrelated short films in place of any character arcs. It’s a bizarre approach, but Dupieux succeeds through sheer chutzpah and gleeful deployment of cheesy special effects.

Dupieux generates some big laughs from a few gross-out moments, such as the end of the introductory fight. When they defeat the baddie at the bottom of a quarry, it explodes with such force that buckets of gloop cover them, a kid at the top of the quarry, and even the kid’s mom inside a car well out of any logical range. There’s also some hilarity involving a barracuda on the campfire, as well as ever-present green ooze seeping out of the mouth of the group’s boss, a talking rat played with conviction by a ridiculously lo-fi puppet.

Smoking Causes Coughing has cult film written all over it, operating both as a delirious send-up of superhero movies and a delightful homage to cheesy schlockfests of the past. If Troma went to France and made a superhero movie, it would probably look something like this, but the wildly unconventional plot structure is all Dupieux. He doesn’t particularly care about the origin of his heroes, any unique character traits, or even the genre conventions, he’s just here to create a good time by any means necessary. He pulls it off, and is sure to make believers out of festival attendees this weekend.

Smoking Causes Coughing plays at Make Believe Seattle Film Festival on Sunday, March 26th. It opens in additional cities around the country on March 31st. For more information about the festival, visit their website here.

Steve Geise

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