Cannes 2024: what is the opening film, The Second Act of Quentin Dupieux, worth?  (critical)

Cannes 2024: what is the opening film, The Second Act of Quentin Dupieux, worth? (critical)

Léa Seydoux, Vincent Lindon, Louis Garrel, completed by Raphaël Quenard, allow the filmmaker to create his best film since Au poste!

Knit one stitch, purl one stitch. This is how Quentin Dupieux knitted his new comedy which therefore has the honor of opening Cannes, where he had already presented Smoking makes you cough out of competition two years ago. A stitch in the place: a “classic” story with four main characters. A stitch in reverse: behind the scenes of its filming and the actors' exchanges between takes (or, sometimes, even interrupting them). The story opens with two long, successive exchanges, presenting the characters and the situation. We follow David (Louis Garrel) who explains to his friend Willy (Raphaël Quenard) that a young woman has set her sights on him. Although lovely, she doesn't attract him and David would therefore like to push her into Willy's arms. We then find the young woman in question, Florence (Léa Seydoux) in discussion with her father (Vincent Lindon) to whom she is going to introduce this David with whom she is in love.

Do you find this dramatically inept and damn cutesy? The performers in this film as well. And it is precisely in the way in which they will express their feelings about the scenario, and more generally talk about their profession and the spirit of the times (the risk of finding themselves canceled at the slightest bad buzz, the movement # metoo, the first effects of Artificial Intelligence…) that The Second Act takes flight. Because Quentin Dupieux is slipping more than ever into the footsteps of his master Bertrand Blier, about whom we think a lot (particularly the Waltzes or to Actors).

Did Dupieux deserve to open the ball for the 2024 Cannes edition? For us who have had little taste of his latest films, the answer would rather be… affirmative! Certainly, we find here the impotence of the filmmaker to put an end to his films or his incapacity to explore the imagined concept. Certainly also, what is said about the vanity or egocentrism of actors or about cancel culture and the #metoo movement is only a succession of clichés that one could hear at the local PMU. And yet, The Second Act appears to be its author's most hilarious and successful film since At office ! Firstly because he does not try to construct a social discourse Yannick. Then because here he seems to accept more than ever the cynicism and misanthropy of his cinema. And finally because he leaves a real place for his actors. For a few films we had the impression that Dupieux was using actors only to provide himself with the most gleaming posters possible. He sometimes even indulged (with their surprising consent) in a curious exercise of humiliation as in Daaaaaali! where the idea of ​​entrusting the same role to six different actors opened up the cruel game of comparisons.

Here, they are the ones taking back power. The Second Act even has something of “the sprinkler watered” (no doubt with his consent). Léa Seydoux, Vincent Lindon and Louis Garrel, the three actors he is directing for the first time, are clearly in charge. In the mouths of other actors, this material might have sounded reactionary. Here it becomes an irresistible comedy gem. The genius of self-deprecation of Vincent Lindon (of whom one would think we hear certain angers that he was able to express in “real” life), the vis comica of Louis Garrel already at work in The Innocent and the insane freedom of play of Léa Seydoux (for her first real foray into the genre) work wonders. At their side, Raphaël Quenard has nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately he struggles with what appears to be a casting error. For a year, over the course of his promotional appearances (the famous suitcase stunt at the César at Daily…), he created a real alternative character for himself. And the shift required by The Second Act between “reality” and the film therefore works less well with him than with the rest of the trio. Unlike them, he is not able to move with fluidity and spontaneity in the situations he has to play.

It would obviously be unfair not to see in the success of the Second act than the sole fact of its actors. Quentin Dupieux also knew how to create the conditions for this success (writing the situations and dialogues carefully, rapid filming which requires other reflexes, remarkable casting of supporting roles including the brilliant Manuel Guillot as a waiter…). But what works for us (so doubtful about his latest films) is the exposure of his false casualness, of a cinema that takes itself seriously in contrast to the absolute coolness that it believes it exudes. We could see in the filmmaker's decision to refuse to promote this film the most snobbish of gestures. What if it was actually the most lucid? Recognition, good player, of the victory by KO of his actors!

By Quentin Dupieux. With Louis Garrel, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Lindon… Duration: 1h20. Released May 14, 2024

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