(France 2021; Dir: Théo Jollet)

Meet Doug

Realist magic

review by Laurence Boyce

Meet Doug

original title: Le Boug Doug

length: 26

year of production: 2021

country of production: France

director: Théo Jollet

director of photography: Alexandre Bricas

editing: Théo Jollet

cast: Wall$treet 2VS, Buzz, Kiala Ogawa

festivals: International Film Festival Rotterdam 2022, Clermont-Ferrand 2022, Kino Pavasaris 2022, Brussels Short Film Festival 2022, IndieLisboa 2022

© images: 'Meet Doug' (Théo Jollet)

Two wannabe gangstas sit in a car and sing along to rap, their current song being little more than a succession of curse words that would make a sailor blush. Filmed in a naturalistic style, it’s a familiar set-up to anyone who has watched numerous social realist films focusing on young people and crime. But then the axis slightly shifts. One of our protagonists leaves the back of the car and starts rapping, directly looking at the camera. We’ve moved from documentary to music video in the blink of an eye. Yet, rather than being jarring, this shift in tone is liberating — even exhilarating. It’s one of many such shifts in ‘Meet Doug’ as director Théo Jollet plays with genre and expectation to examine notions of self-mythology.

Films in which the protagonists are petty criminals usually focus on the nature of crime itself: the promise of the illicit and the illegal itself often used as a narrative focal point. These films also often take a realist approach and become an exploration of a downtrodden underclass whose lives are dictated by urban and social alienation. While some of these elements are touched upon in ‘Meet Doug’, Jollet is less interested in the minutiae of objective reality than he is about how people construct reality around themselves.

Indeed, for all their bluff and bluster, the titular Doug (Wall$treet 2VS) and his motley band of friends seem to not do much more than hang about a small football pitch and snack bar with an equally motley band of ancillary characters. We hear a selection of stories from various protagonists: the snack bar owner whose past as a criminal in Eastern Europe and his prowess for making sandwiches are told in lurid detail. The area security guard whose lackadaisical attitude towards his job means he’s as bad as those he is meant to stop. As each tell their story to camera, there’s always a slight sense of the absurd and the ridiculous which is heightened by the documentary style utilised in these vignettes.

This sense of the absurd and surreal is amplified in the moments in which a strange apparition appears. Bedecked in a full body suit, face covered by a mask, this seemingly supernatural creature appears to Doug and his friends. We’re never quite sure who she is — an embodiment of death maybe — but what’s striking is how unphased Doug is by her presence as she hovers in the background, often on a motorcycle. Indeed, on discovering her phone, he proceeds to flirt with her as she implores him to meet her alone. At one point — in one of the film’s most bravura sequences — she sings to Doug and friends in an empty space. Doug and Lomar (Buzz) proceed to rap and then wake up on the football field, unsure of what just happened.

‘Meet Doug’ constantly flits between the stultifying ordinariness of provincial life and the fantastical. There’s also a constant mix of mood and tone. At one point there’s dry humour and silliness abound. In other moments there’s a sense of menace and unease. In lesser hands, all these aesthetic and tonal shifts would render the film a complete mess. But here, the changes create a sort of momentum that gives ‘Meet Doug’ an unrelenting sense of energy.

For our characters, especially the younger ones, the boundaries between reality and fantasy seem particularly blurred, indicative of a world in which words can speak louder than actions. They may define themselves as petty criminals, but – in the grand scheme of things – any crime they do commit would seem to be small and non-descript. Even when faced with more concrete examples of illicit behaviour near the end of the film, it still seems minor when compared to the more fantastical elements that are seeping through. Throughout, the characters are building their own mythologies, defining themselves through stories, artifice and fantasy. The older ones do it through monologues and telling seemingly tall tales. The younger ones rap, use social media or engage in banter. But all inhabit a world in which ‘normality’ no longer has the meaning it once did.

The film is held together by the main cast, many of whom are non-professional actors and are better known as singers and rappers. Their performances are compellingly unaffected as they drift through the staccato moments that make up the film, and they cut a charismatic presence across proceedings. Ending with Doug and our mysterious entity hurtling down the highway to an unknown destination (with a glassy eyed look, is Doug been taken to the afterlife perhaps?) the films ends on a defiant dreamlike note. Often elliptical and frequently unquantifiable, ‘Meet Doug‘ is a mesmeric overload that is quietly stunning.