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Bigbug is a Bright, Automated Cyborg Ballet
Which disassembles itself.
Jean-Pierre Jeuent is best known for the quirky rom-com Amélie. It’s been a decade since he released a film, but if fans were hoping for a heartwarming follow up, they will be disappointed.
His latest, Bigbug, available on Netflix, is sort of about a future dystopia sentient AI revolt film. And then it’s sort of a parody of a future dystopia sentient AI revolt. But really the plot is almost incidental. Bigbug is a farcical meditation on/pastiche of fears, and dreams about robots and technology. It’s a bright, saturated, automated cyborg ballet which compulsively disassembles itself.
The ”story” is set in 2050, at the home of bourgeois divorced homeowner Alice (Elsa Zylberstein). A group of acquaintances and neighbors are gathered at her house when the automated security system declares an emergency and locks the doors. This may or may not be related to the android Yonyx program; the maniacally smiling Yonyx (all of whom are played by Fracois Levantal) appear to be planning to eliminate humans, and/or humiliate them in reality programming games, and/or to eat them.
The AI revolt is a standard science-fiction plot from Terminator to Battlestar Galactica. But here it’s just one among many of the robot anxieties on offer.
The Yonyx, for example, aren’t just potential robot overlords. They’re also the more mundane nightmare of automated bureaucratic (dis)service. One Yonyx who invades Alice’s home alternately lasers people, drains their bank accounts, and provides the contact point as they futilely attempt to turn their air conditioner back on (“you’ll note the efficiency and rapidity of our service,” he boasts.) The climate control troubles are a nod to tech dystopia as well. Once the doors are locked, the cooling system cuts out, and all the characters spend most of the film sweltering through a kind of domesticated global warming.
Jeunet is playing with tech nightmares, but he’s just as amused by tech nostalgia. The household computers are, with mixed efficacy, on the side of the humans, and even wish to become humans, like Star Trek’s Data and many a beloved SF helper droid past. Tom, a childhood companion robot, looks a little like R2-D2 with a head, and putters about adorably. Einstein, a robot puzzle challenge, delivers nuggets of wisdom. Alice’s neighbor (Isabele Nanty) is having a romance with her own droid, in a nod to the many ways, from vibrators to YouPorn, that tech has subsidized eroticisim, for better, for worse, or for laughs.
Jeunet satirizes human reliance on tech, and human obsession with tech: one character practically begs to be humiliated because she wants to be on television. But he also satirizes the fetishization of anti-tech and naturalness. Alice programs her computer to release authentic scents like “rain on asphalt” and “fresh cut lawn.” She also writes calligraphy which she hopes to sell for its pure simplicity on a New Age-ish website. She keeps a bunch of banned books which the Yonyx frown upon. But her resistance is less noble Fahrenheit 451 and more a kind of vacuous status seeking.
Bigbug’s style is a rejection of authenticity in itself. The humor and characters are extremely broad—if you thought the farce in Don’t Look Up was too over the top, this is likely to make you roll your eyes so hard that your optical sensors pop out and clatter under a nearby appliance. The movie opens with a scene of two Yonyx walking humans on leashes like dogs. It includes that hoary old story about the butterfly dreaming it was a man or vice versa as the humans try to bamboozle the robots with logic puzzles. And there’s French sex farce because why not?
I’m sure some viewers will be put off by the corniness and the movie’s general clunky refusal of verisimilitude. But the platic style seems fitting for a film about how humans and their technology are both indistinguishable and glitchy. The movie and the uprising don’t so much end as putter into a dead end and cease forward progress involuntarily; one character even boasts about having no reason for her actions as the plot arbitrarily whooshes her off stage. The robots keep saying they want to be human, but Bigbug seems to suggest that humans are their own buggy, cobbled together tech. Like sex, corny jokes, bureaucracy and extinction events, there’s no escaping it.
First published February 2022.
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