Le Deuxième Acte: The Latest Comedy from Director Quentin Dupieux

Le Deuxième Acte: The Latest Comedy from Director Quentin Dupieux

Nobody loves movies about making movies more than the people who actually make them. This is why, on Tuesday night at Cannes, the festival’s opening film Le Deuxième Acte debuted to a theater full of filmmakers and cinema-lovers to warm laughs of recognition.

The irony-filled comedy film comes from the creative and absurdist mind of French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux. The director is known for his films like Deerskin, Rubber, and Yannick. The film stars Vincent Lindon, Louis Garrel, Raphaël Quenard, and Léa Seydoux (the actress also made waves at Cannes in 2013 when she starred in the Palme d’Or-winning film, Blue is the Warmest Color).

Le Deuxième Acte by director Quentin Dupieux

Films like Singin’ in the Rain, The Aviator, and Tropic Thunder all shed light on the unique experience that is making a movie, and all the chaos and time spent (so much time!) in this artistic endeavor. Le Deuxième Acte joins the long list of films about making a movie, but it does so in a unique and memorable way. Le Deuxième Acte is a movie within a movie within a movie. If that sounds confusing, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

There were several moments during this meta film where the viewer isn’t sure which storyline we’re following, and which part of the movie is real, and which part is the movie they’re making on screen. This was next-level meta, and it was truly a delightful film, even though not a whole lot happened.

A small cast of four central characters – all actors in real life playing actors in the film – stole the show with their humor, heart, nuance, and biting criticism of one another. Stereotypes of actors and the film industry played out in real time onscreen, to lots of laughs inside the theater. There was the stereotype of actors being deeply insecure, fiercely competitive with each other, and aging out of roles. The Me Too movement was not spared a mention, nor was Mel Gibson’s antisemitic-fueled fall from grace.

Throughout the film, we’re introduced to the actors and their story lines in the movie that’s being made on screen. All the actors taking part in the film are exasperated and recognize that the movie they’re in is a formulaic turkey of the film. The film being made is about a woman who’s introducing her boyfriend (who couldn’t care less about her) to her father (Lindon). The film being made takes place in the French countryside and in a small diner called Le Deuxième Acte.

Le Deuxième Acte by director Quentin Dupieux

It’s in the diner where we meet a scene-stealing extra (an extra in the film they’re making, but an important character in the actual film we’re watching). Actor Manuel Guillot plays an extra who’s a waiter and is so nervous he continues spilling red wine all over the table. Later, in a horrific moment involving the waiter, we’re not sure if the terrible thing is happening in the movie being made or the movie we’re watching. Guillot steals the show with his sweetness and humor.

Meanwhile, Willy (Quenard) is being tended to by Florence (Seydoux) after his nose is smashed and bleeding. He tries to kiss her, saying he wants to prepare for their real kiss onscreen. She rebuffs him and says she could end his career for what he just did.

There is a hilarious and long-running bit through the film which got many laughs. Guillaume (Lindon) has been tapped to be in the next Paul Thomas Anderson film. (Anderson is renowned director known for his films like There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, and Boogie Nights.) David (Garrel) calls his agent to get Guillaume thrown out of the upcoming Anderson movie so he can take the role.

Another point of great amusement was when the viewer learns that the film they’re making onscreen is the first film ever directed and written by artificial intelligence (AI). This moment got huge laughs from the audience. Despite its prevalence and widespread usage, I think it’s safe to say that filmmaking – with all its humanity, heart, and emotion – is a medium which will never be seriously threatened by AI in any substantive way. There is simply too much of human touch for an AI director to ever understand the nuances of human emotion and intricate storytelling told onscreen.

The plot point of a love story, revealed at the end in a surprising way, it a tender moment full of heart and humor. As the film concludes, the camera pans, seemingly unendingly, along Dolly tracks (the tracks used during filming to create a smooth surface for shots). In comedy, there’s a known technique of holding something for longer than is comfortable to get a laugh. And then holding it further, even longer. Director Dupieux clearly knows this. As the Dolly tracks upon Dolly tracks continue to appear in the French countryside where these four actors brought life to the AI-directed film, the audience couldn’t help but laugh in recognition.

Dupieux’s Le Deuxième Acte was the perfect opener for the 77th Cannes Film Festival because it pokes fun at the industry and its actors, but it’s also a love letter to cinema and all the people responsible for a titanic feat: bringing movies to life.

Lead photo credit : Le Deuxième Acte by director Quentin Dupieux

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Anne McCarthy is a contributing writer to BBC News, Teen Vogue, The Telegraph, Dance Magazine, and more. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Westminster and is the Editor in Chief of Fat Tire Tours’ travel blog. She lives in New York City.