REVIEW: ‘Smoking Causes Coughing’ Is What Cinema Is All About

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Smoking Causes Coughing - But Why Tho

Smoking Causes Coughing is a film by French director Quentin Dupieux. Famous for his 2010 movie Rubber about a killer rubber tire, one can expect an outlandish premise, camp, and the unexpected. What I’ve found in Smoking Causes Coughing is a splendid exploration of teamwork, human desire, and a fun take on superheroes. At only 80 minutes long, Dupieux has created a film that deserves your attention and needs to be watched with a group of your closest friends.

This film is formatted as an anthology, with very distinct scenes that loosely tie the whole film together. Viewers are immediately thrust into the world of camp and kitsch the moment we lay eyes on the main characters. They’re called the Tobacco Force, dressed in bright blue, white, and yellow latex suits that feel like a combination of Power Rangers and Kamen Rider suits. They stop evil by giving their enemies super cancer and make some of the goofiest, rubber monster designs I’ve seen blow up in a feat of exceptionally fake blood. Tonally, this setup suggests audiences are in for a comedy treat but it strikes a perfect balance across multiple genres.

What drives this film’s core is the stellar performances of every member of the Tobacco Force. They are a superhero team that has lost their touch per their rat boss. No, really, their boss is an anthropomorphic rat with green goo dripping out of its mouth (and one of the members of the Tobacco Force is in love with him). Chief Didier, voiced by Alain Chabat, tells his team to take some time off from saving the world, slow down, and reconnect as people and as a team. Benzène, played by Gilles Lellouche, rallies the rest of the Tobacco Force and they head over to secluded camping grounds. With names all referencing the ingredients found in cigarettes, Méthanol (Vincent Lacoste), Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier), Mercure (Jean-Pascal Zadi), and Ammoniaque  (Oulaya Amamra) play off of each other like old friends.

Their cadence towards one another, whether they are exchanging scary stories or trying to convince someone not to make poor life decisions, feels as if they’ve known each other forever. They feel like a family on screen and it grounds this otherwise fantastical movie. Demoustier’s nuanced portrayal of Nicotine’s relationship with Captain Didier comes off as perplexing but also understandable and believable in the world Dupieux has created. There are so many scenes that rely on all of them to express either familial annoyance, love, and care and they execute it perfectly.

One of Dupieux’s greatest strengths in Smoking Causes Coughing is the balance between the high and low-brow execution of social commentary. There is sick irony in superheroes being praised for how devastating their kills are. It is a mortifying, moral dilemma. However, I laughed so hard at these action scenes with how over-the-top it was. As the story unfolds, this film blends horror, sci-fi, and character drama. My favorite vignette was about a helmet that a woman puts on that makes her feel intelligent and murderous.

Philosophically, Dupieux is asking us to engage in ideas such as how humans slowly kill themselves with nicotine, that being intelligent carries its own burden, and that sometimes you really do need to get better are getting along with others. this film is only effective because Dupieux isn’t telling us these things outright, but is using camp as a medium to wink at these bigger ideas. Some may find this cumbersome, feeling as if it feels pointless and half-baked to explore these ideas in such a silly way. However, Dupieux makes it clear he is making an attempt to blend slower cinema with the absurd, making the watching experience so enjoyable to think about.

Objectively, I know Smoking Causes Coughing will not be everyone’s preferred type of film. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. Managing to balance camp and social commentary, this movie is much more than just a weird movie with buckets of blood, rubber monsters, and a talking rat. With such a short run time, I was thinking about how the interpersonal relationships of teammates function, how love looks and feels different for each person, and how sometimes you need to slow life down to appreciate it in full. Dupieux has shocked me with how well-crafted and executed Smoking Causes Coughing is and I’m glad audiences will get to experience something so truly extraordinary and refreshing.

Smoking Causes Coughing will be released in select movie theatres in the USA and on digital March 31st.

Smoking Causes Coughing
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10


Dupieux has shocked me with how well-crafted and executed Smoking Causes Coughing is and I’m glad audiences will get to experience something so truly extraordinary and refreshing.

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