May 15, 2024

the second act, léa seydoux, quentin dupieux, screening room


Archly meta and reflexive, Quentin Dupieux’s cheeky comedy is precisely the sort of movie to open a film festival – with its fourth wall breaks, mid-scene appeals to film buffs and discussion on the purpose of art. Audiences for Cannes’ opening night film ate up a self-described indie that has plenty to say as its scatty characters seem to say nothing at all.

The Second Act of the title is a remote restaurant where a trembling, anxious waiter opens up and nervously flicks on the lights. On their way to his eaterie are two sets of characters – besties Willy (Raphaël Quenard) and David (Louis Garrel) who discuss the annoying girlfriend that David is trying to jettison as they stride down the road. That girlfriend, Florence (Lea Seydoux), is driving to meet them at the titular rendezvous with her Papa (Vincent Lindon), convinced David is ‘the one’. But before any sort of narrative can form, David and Willy discuss trans women and bisexuality and address the camera directly as they worry about their opinions having the potential to cancel them. Meanwhile, in the car, Florence’s father quits the film production we are watching and argues that acting and filmmaker are ridiculous artifice, pointless in a violent world of war and poverty. That waiter at the restaurant awaits their arrival, his anxiety rising for his big break as a featured background artist, and the ‘director’ is an AI app…

Like a cinematic onion, The Second Act continually sheds its artistic layers, keeping audiences on their toes in questioning what’s ‘real’ and the value of the seventh art. Even if you don’t like this, Dupieux seems to be saying, cinema is vital; ‘movies are cool!’ Seydoux argues at one point and a dolly track is lensed with love. The device of constantly upending expectation with cast/characters spatting about semantics and talking in circles is simultaneously self-indulgent and self-aware but makes some spiky points about the disenfranchisement of artists, the rise of algorithms and the value of acting (Seydoux’s actress calls her mother at one point to blub about her day while her heart surgeon mum saves lives). And despite some dextrous physical comedy from Manuel Guillot as the waiter with serious pouring issues, the film ends with a violent, bleak act that is open to interpretation.

Brisk at under 90 minutes, The Second Act is a slight concoction that plays like a successor to Woody Allen and asks viewers to take nothing too seriously. Unless it’s a call from Paul Thomas Anderson…

Quentin Dupieux’s The Second Act starring Lea Seydoux, Louis Garrel, Raphaël Quenard and Vincent Lindon  is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC

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