Wednesday 15 May 2024

Cannes 2024 - The Second Act by Quentin Dupieux

For many years the Cannes Film Festival seemed to struggle to find an exciting opening film and there were several "quality" period dramas that baffled everyone. On a completely unrelated note we are celebrating the ten years anniversary of Grace of Monaco opening the festival ten years ago. Yet recently the festival has decided to have some fun, with comedies such as The Dead don't Die and even the hilarious zombie horror remake Coupez! taking this prestigious slot. After a diversion back to period drama with Madame du Barry last year, in 2024 it was time to laugh again.

The Second Act seemed like the perfect film to start the festivities indeed, a meta comedy about cinema with a starry ensemble cast and it was a nice appetiser indeed even if a little inconsequential. A film within a film (within a film?), it is at its best when it randomly breaks the fourth wall without much care for the continuity of what appears to be a film being shot, taking us by surprise with this in its (outrageous) opening scene: David (Louis Garrel) and Willy (Raphaël Quenard) are on their way to meet overtly keen Florence (Léa Seydoux) and scheming up to get her off the former's back who becomes increasingly  concerned about being cancelled with the latter's decidedly un PC outbursts. Is this a shot at cancel culture? Or a shot at those who take a shot at cancel culture?

On their way to meet them, Florence and her "father" Guillame (Vincent Lindon), breaking out of character when the latter has an outburst about the state of cinema before an impromptu opportunity seems him operate a complete u-turn. 

The main part of the film takes place in a roadside café called The Second Act in which the actors, coming in and out of characters, square up and bicker while trying to go through their scenes, under the eyes of a hapless extra seemingly unable to manage to simple act of pouring a glass of wine (a recurring and very amusing joke) due to his stage fright, with some wonderfully acerbic dialogues borne out of each of them's insecurities 

The Second Act has a lot to say about cinema and its future, fiction versus reality, the facade of this glamorous business versus the stark reality of it, made of insecurities and backstabbing, except that it does not go anywhere with it. It braces all these themes as if they were random ideas as quickly abandoned as they were introduced. An ingenious plot development about the nature of the film being made (which is best not spoiled) is neglected and while there are some incredibly funny and ferocious scenes and lines, they are thrown all a bit randomly, with a script that needed some tightening up.

Worst, The Second Act runs out of steam after its first hour, with a completely superfluous final act that adds yet another meta layer that is completely unnecessary to the narrative. As too often the case, Quentin Dupieux comes up with a high-concept script yet fails to develop it properly. 

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Star rating: 

Official Selection, Out of Competition

The Second Act. Directed by Quentin Duplex. Starring Vincent Lindon, Léa Seydoux...

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