2023 / 67m - France
Comedy, Thriller
Yannick poster

In less than 15 years, Quentin Dupieux has worked himself up to become one of the staples of French cinema. It's an unlikely success story he probably couldn't even repeat himself, but it happened and the world is a better place for it. Yannick is one of Dupieux's latest films (the man's pace is relentless) and it's once again a film that expands his oeuvre without blatantly repeating or copying his earlier work. Dupieux has become a certainty for me, sporting one of the longest successful streaks I've ever encountered, so fingers crossed he can keep this up.

screencap of Yannick

Dupieux has turned himself into the poster child for absurd cinema. It's not the most lucrative type of comedy, and his work isn't particularly high-brow, but that doesn't keep him from getting his movies played at prestigious film festivals (his latest one started the Cannes festival this year). The interesting thing about Dupieux is that while he works within a relatively small and confined niche, he still knows how to make each next film different and distinct enough from the previous ones. His body of work isn't as repetitive as it sounds, and every one of these films bears his signature.

Yannick is one of Dupieux's shorter films, but considering the basic premise and the single-location setup that's a positive. He could've easily padded things to reach the more accepted 90-minute mark, but kudos for resisting the urge. The film opens up a classic and typical discussion about art, yet it does so without any pretensions. There's no heavy-handedness or blasé attitudes that tend to accompany this type of subject, instead, Dupieux goes for the jugular and posits a more populist approach which pokes some fun at both sides of the argument.

Yannick is a simple working-class man, who rarely takes time off work. He makes an exception to go and see a farce in a local theater, but once there he is bored to tears. When his patience finally snaps, he interrupts the play, starting an animated discussion with the actors on stage. Their initial reaction is disbelief, but as Yannick argues his case for expecting entertainment in return for sacrifices he made to attend the show, they have little to rebuke his plea. They convince Yannick to leave the theater, but while waiting for his coat he changes his mind and decides to stand his ground.

screencap of Yannick

Visually this isn't the most spectacular film, and that's not even considering Dupieux's more modest reputation in this area. The theater is pretty drab, the set is an absolute failure in minimalist design and even the actors look their most plain. This barebones approach isn't entirely without function though. The lack of anything remotely fun, joyous, or visually striking captures the atmosphere of these types of plays and evenings perfectly, and it adds a layer of dry, dark humor which goes very well with the film's more absurdist streaks.

The soundtrack is largely absent. It's still what puzzles me most about Dupieux's work, for a man who used to spend most of his time as a respected music producer the music in his films often feels like an afterthought. It's not that a feature like Yannick needs a very elaborate or leading score, but to have virtually nothing at all is quite the opposite approach. Safe an insignificant piano diddle at the end, there's no music. A sonic void only disrupted by the dialogue, it's a good thing then that the voice and tone of Quenard stand out, or I wouldn't have had anything to say.

Dupieux has arrived at a point where he can work with famous and internationally established actors, but the casting seems to aim beyond getting a few familiar faces. Quenard has been showing up in Dupieux's latest films and his lead role here is 100% deserved. His character may be infuriating, but he has a peculiar flair betraying a little more depth than his dreary appearance suggests. The rest of the cast is also on point, with some nice secondary performances from the three actors, but it's clear this film was Quenard's opportunity to shine, and he took it with both hands.

screencap of Yannick

Though primarily a mix of comedy with a reflection on art and its spectator's investment on the side, the film alludes (or seems to) that we might be watching a fully staged performance where the audience has become part of the play. It would've been a perfectly predictable twist for a Dupieux film, but the surprise is that he plays it straight-faced. The ending is still ambiguous, but only because we aren't shown the actual conclusion. There are no sudden twists that flip the entire interpretation of the film, there's just a narrative that fades out right before we come to the end.

Yannick is relatively simple and subdued for a Dupieux film, but therein lies its power. The premise is interesting enough to support an hour's worth of material, and Dupieux trims all the fat so only the essentials remain. Don't watch this film for the presentation or the strong narrative, instead, have a good chuckle, marvel at its wittiness, and take a minute to consider the points it raises. It's not a life-changing experience, art never should be, but for artists and people who have turned (whatever type of) art into their hobby, there is some meat to chew on. And so Dupieux's winning streak continues.