Cannes Xpress 2024: The contradictions of Cannes

Straight from the heart of Cannes, our writer brings you updates from one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Today we talk about Quentin Dupieux’s The Second Act
Cannes Xpress 2024: The contradictions of Cannes

Cannes opening films have rarely ever been scintillating. Quentin Dupieux’s The Second Act also follows that long-standing tradition even while scoring one of the most enjoyable starts for the festival in recent times. It is eminently likeable in its own sloppy, quirky way, and concurrently disconcerting with its contentious take on issues like the MeToo movement plaguing the film industry.

Reportedly, the working title of the multi-starrer had been “To our beautiful profession”, aptly tongue in cheek for a meta-movie about ill-fated movie-making. David (Louis Garrel) is being pursued by a gorgeous Florence (Lea Seydoux). However, not finding himself attracted to her, he wants to dump her on his friend Willy (Raphael Quenard). She, on the other hand, is serious enough about David to want to introduce him to her father Guillaume (Vincent Lindon). The four of them meet in a restobar called The Second Act, nestled in the middle of nowhere, with a hysterically anxious server Stephane (Manuel Guillot) in attendance.

Meanwhile, the intermittent breaking of the fourth wall keeps reminding the audience of these characters’ role-playing as opposed to reality; of witnessing them during the filming of a film, not just the throes of life itself.

Dupieux is characteristically abrupt, absurd, eccentric, indulges in ingenuities, is playful with gags and anarchic with the material on hand.

The crisp 80-minute film is built on incessant chatter, largely conversations between two individuals. It revels in, uncomfortably so for some viewers, political incorrectness—be it to do with sexuality, anti-Semitism, racism, disability or the MeToo movement. Is Dupieux being deliberately facetious, making light of serious concerns or mischievously cocking a snook at righteousness and cancel culture at large? The Jury would be out on that.

At its best and worst, the film gets both dangerously as well as outrageously funny in its silliness, evoking guilty chuckles—A comparison of bisexuality to hybrid cars, AI in filmmaking, Titanic, Mel Gibson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and even a dolly track. The Second Act may not cut too deep but did it have this lofty intent in the first place? As is usual with Dupieux films, it doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously. Be it for the good or bad.

While the opening film may raise eyebrows with its handling of MeToo, the opening ceremony a while earlier was an over-the-top celebration of two women from the film industry—the head of the Cannes competition jury, Greta Gerwig, and the recipient of the honorary Palme d’Or, Meryl Streep.

As a homage to her film Francis Ha, Gerwig was serenaded by Zaho de Sagazan with her rendition of David Bowie’s 'Modern Love', used wonderfully in the film. Gerwig smiled, cried and sang along.

An extraordinarily emotional Juliette Binoche presented the award to an overwhelmed Streep, who spoke about how fast life passes us by and jokingly wondered about the correct pronunciation of Cannes. Incidentally, it is "can" as in "a can of worms"; something any first-timer at the festival is religiously told.

As further MeToo allegations threaten to create tumult in the ongoing festival, and even as General Delegate Thierry Fremaux regretted controversies taking over cinema in the recent editions, Gerwig, in the jury press conference, underscored the significance of the MeToo movement and how the very act of women sharing their stories had brought about a good, substantive change in the film industry. For instance, due importance is being given to the profession of intimacy coordination, which is “part of building a safe environment”. “We must expand the conversation and keep the lines of communication open,” said Gerwig. Incongruous? But then what is Cannes without such contradictions?

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