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  • Writer's pictureJack Salvadori

Cannes #77 - "The Second Act" Review

Cannes-cel culture.

An unsettling grey and rainy weather anticipated the lukewarm reception of the 76th edition of the most prestigious festival in the world. At the news of Quentin Dupieux opening this year’s kermess with his latest flick, The Second Act, expectations were certainly high- but not quite met.

Since the imposing red “N” of Neflix doomed over the Lumiere Theatre, there was immediately a slight sense of discomfort. Opening with Netflix sounds like a questionably hypocritical decision, after the austere position of the festival against the streaming platform from its previous editions. But this hypocrisy is perhaps fitting, soon becoming the main motif of the entire film. Starring Raphaël Quenard, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Lindon, and Louis Garrel, the movie presents four actors attempting to shoot a movie juggling with the new standards set by political correctness, what is appropriate to say and how, and the fear/threat of being cancelled. Yet, clashes unfold and tensions arise, with the players attacking each other demanding professionalism and good behaviour on set, while shamelessly showcasing sexual misconduct and offensive remarks when not on camera. But there are no cameras. Nor intrusive lights. And most importantly, no “cuts”. The picture, apparently, is directorless. This allows the actors to switch between their characters and their thespians alter-egos, interrupting and returning to their fictitious scenes in a smooth, metacinematic tango.


Metacinema is the most familiar ground for Dupieux, who often likes to question what is real and what is fictional, especially in his early works. The formula is always the same: surreal situations while capturing hyperrealist nuances and laidback interactions, in this case of a film set: “you don’t know all that goes on when you watch TV at home!”, exclaims one of the extras. But The Second Act is ultimately a self-reflection about the French film industry, with its bureaucratic productions, random fascination of new technological trends, and the unmotivated awe of American cinema while being dismissive about itself. However, the contemporary critique is quite shallow, unoriginal, and too on the nose, and the film scored very few giggles compared to the French director’s signature outbursts of laughter among the audience. Perhaps Dupieux’s surrealist freedom was curbed by the bitter societal comment, and he works best when indeed, he has nothing to say.


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