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Léa Seydoux in Quentin Dupieux Cannes Opener

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With 13 options made since 2007, and 6 prior to now 4 years, French DJ-turned-director Quentin Dupieux is clearly no slacker. Not solely has he helmed all these movies — he’s additionally written, shot and edited them, in addition to composed lots of their scores.

Beginning along with his surreal deadpan début, Rubber, and up by means of final yr’s Yannick and Daaaaali!, Dupieux has had an impressively prolific run, step by step enhancing with every new film whereas honing a method and tone which are fully his personal.

The Second Act

The Backside Line

It doesn’t get extra meta than this.

Venue: Cannes Movie Pageant (Out of Competitors, Opening Night time Movie)
Solid: Léa Seydoux, Vincent Lindon, Louis Garrel, Raphaël Quenard, Manuel Guillot
Director, screenwriter: Quentin Dupieux

1 hour 22 minutes

If, nevertheless, there’s one disadvantage to this incessant exercise, it’s that his movies all have very brief operating occasions as a result of they have an inclination to lack traditional denouements. They’re well-executed, high-concept affairs mixing comedy, sci-fi, horror and different genres in enjoyable methods, however they usually play out like lengthy second acts with out actual endings.

Dupieux was maybe conscious of this flaw when he determined to name his newest characteristic The Second Act (Le Deuxième acte), though whether or not he was being ironic or not is unclear. What’s sure is that that is his first work to deal with his personal occupation head-on, in a Pirandello-esque movie-within-a-movie that performs out like a twisted and uproarious tackle François Truffaut’s behind-the-scenes favourite, Day for Night time.

Like Truffaut, Dupieux lampoons the infallible egos of a few of France’s most well-known actors, revealing the sparks that fly when these egos come crashing collectively on set. However he additionally addresses extra modern topics just like the emergence of AI as a software of price reducing, and the belated arrival of cancel tradition and the #MeToo motion throughout the French film business.   

Close to the latter, rumors that accusations in opposition to sure famend actors, producers and administrators may come out within the French press have turned The Second Act into extra of a meta affair than Dupieux most likely had ever supposed — particularly since a number of of the scenes in his film deal with these very points. This, maybe paradoxically as properly, might garner the movie much more consideration when it opens this yr’s Cannes Movie Pageant, together with a near-simultaneous launch on French screens.

Dupieux pulls the rug out from beneath us within the first main scene, which entails an especially lengthy walk-and-talk between Willy (Raphaël Quenard) and David (Louis Garrel), two pals strolling throughout the quiet countryside and discussing a lady named Florence (Léa Seydoux) that David needs to set Willy up with. However wait a minute: Willy retains on trying on the digital camera, and David retains telling him to cease saying inappropriate issues.  

Willy and David are usually not, actually, two previous pals, however relatively actors enjoying them in a film. The identical goes for Florence and her father, Guillaume (Vincent Lindon), who can barely get by means of their very own scene earlier than dropping religion not solely within the sappy romance they’re making, however in films basically. That’s, till he will get a name from his agent telling him that Paul Thomas Anderson needs to forged him in his newest characteristic.

PTA shortly turns into a operating gag in The Second Act — a logo of the sway sure Hollywood administrators nonetheless maintain over French actors, particularly these pissed off with their very own business. Different names are dropped as properly, together with Mel Gibson’s throughout one hilarious tirade by Willy, whereas the 4 French stars appear to be enjoying solely barely exaggerated variations of themselves: Seydoux is the spoiled starlet not sure of her personal expertise; Garrel the seductive wiseass who hides his ego behind good manners; Lindon the seasoned veteran with no endurance for amateurs; and Quenard the obnoxiously humorous newcomer whose working-class origins and diction separate him from the pack.

All of them ultimately meet up at a roadside restaurant referred to as The Second Act, the place they argue some extra, oscillating between their characters within the film being made and the actors they play within the film concerning the film being made. In some unspecified time in the future, a nervous waiter (Manuel Guillot) steps in to serve them wine, and his incapacity to pour out a glass with out spilling it in every single place turns into one other gag that quickly turns horrifically bitter.

Or has it? Dupieux fools us but once more, with a brand new twist that has the actors reworking into one other set of actors who aren’t enjoying themselves anymore. There’s additionally a director, within the type of an AI avatar on a laptop computer, who reveals as much as robotically touch upon their work, deducting pay from these forged members who didn’t carry out adequately sufficient.

Is that this the way forward for moviemaking? And much more so: Is it essentially worse than a bunch of narcissistic French stars having panic assaults and ego journeys on set? Dupieux doesn’t give us his reply, and like his different movies, this one ends with out a lot of an actual ending.  

What’s totally different this time round is how his actors — together with the charismatic Quenard, who additionally headlined Yannick — say some very cancel-worthy issues which will or will not be the director’s personal ideas, and which in any case are shortly misplaced within the arthouse metaverse that he’s concocted right here. The medium clearly counts greater than the message for the previous French Contact DJ: It’s cinema as an enormous turntable the place you may remix, scratch and pattern ideas to create your individual particular sound.

In that sense, The Second Act might be his strongest movie but, and definitely the primary that would fire up any controversy. Not solely is the script cleverly written, however the cinematography, together with 4 epically lengthy monitoring pictures, and the enhancing, which occasions all of the jokes completely, are well-mastered. The truth that Dupieux did all of this by himself positively deserves some kudos.

The director additionally reveals an actual knack for making a few of France’s largest present abilities funnier than they’ve been earlier than, particularly the customarily dour Seydoux, who delivers one of many movie’s most laugh-out-loud moments throughout a cellphone name together with her mom. There’s maybe nothing Dupieux can’t do at this level, besides, maybe, attempt to make a plain previous strange film — not that he’d ever wish to.

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