Locarno 2023 Review: YANNICK, Quentin Dupieux's Secret Film, A Riot of Social Satire
Just before the world premiere of his freshest work Daaaaaali!, bound to be revealed in Venice, French pop-surrealist Quentin Dupieeux has unveiled another comic treat, Yannick, shot clandestinely over just six days with a modest budget.
Following his absurdist cross-over of Power Rangers and Twilight Zone in Smoking Causes Coughing, Dupieux offers a more minimalist chamber piece in Yannick, named after its central offender.
The plot unfolds in a Parisian theatre during an evening performance of a boulevard play, Le Cocu (Cuckold). The lead trio of actors is going through the on-stage routine when, out of the blue, a man rises from his seat in the thinly-populated auditorium.
He is Yannick, as he introduces himself to the baffled crowd, and reveals he is a parking lot night watchman, He voices his disappointment with the show in a surprisingly honest and open way. Yannick is not getting what he has paid for. After an awkward monologue, the actors attempt to reason with him but ultimately decide to unceremoniously eject him from the theatre.
Reluctantly, Yannick leaves to seek reimbursement, only to find the actors and audience mocking him upon his return. Determined to make a point, or perhaps teach a lesson, he asserts his respect, brandishing a gun. The evening's entertainment morphs into a hostage situation, reminiscent of Dupieux's signature cinema of the absurd.
The lead character, portrayed by the emerging actor Raphaël Quenard in a breakout role, appears initially presented as a random hillbilly who claims he didn't come to the theatre for art, stating he's no minister of culture. However, the dynamic shifts with the hostage situation.
Despite the heightened tension due to what appears to be an unstable individual, Yannick begins to casually converse and connect with the audience, effectively fomenting a Stockholm Syndrome in front of everyone's eyes. Yannick is a version of the everyman, naive to societal boundaries, but navigating them with childlike innocence and flippancy.
Yannick's sparring partner in confrontation is the actor Paul Rivière (Pio Marmaï), who attempts to reason with the disgruntled theater-goer, despite the looming threat. At one point, Rivière discreetly conveys to Yannick that he shouldn't be endearing himself to the audience or seeking their sympathy, given his role as the antagonist. While Yannick may seem naive, he keenly senses Paul's underlying jealousy as the spotlight and sympathies are stolen from him by Mr. Nobody.
The lead character resists conformity and refuses to accept things he disagrees with, positioning him as an extremist compared to society's conventional standards. Conversely, Paul Rivière not only adheres to social norms but attempts to impose them on the unpredictable Yannick. It becomes evident, however, that Paul himself is suppressing discontent. As the power dynamics shift and Paul gains the upper hand, his bottled-up feelings manifest, casting him in the role of the true societal rebel.
Dupieux has already demonstrated his ability to traverse a genre spectrum with a pop-surrealist and absurdist flair. His latest film aligns with Mandibles, essentially his take on a road movie bromance. Yannick is structured like a sitcom, a 67-minute elevated sketch. highlighting the clash between conformist and nonconformist worlds.
Dupieux might not favor excessive intellectualization of Yannick, positioned as it is in the comedy genre. Undeniably comedic, the film saw sold-out screenings at Locarno, leading the festival to accommodate the high demand with additional showings. The predominantly French-speaking audience relished the raw humor, often laughing at clear comedic cues.
This reception highlights Dupieux's skill in crafting timely jokes and building momentum, given he also wrote the script. In many ways, Yannick serves as a meta-commentary on Dupieux's oeuvre, presenting an alternative vision of zany comedy. While one might hesitate to label him the 21st century's Buñuel, there's no denying that Yannick echoes The Exterminating Angel, albeit with Dupieux's twist that is more satirical then allegorical.
With the rise of French mainstream comedies in recent years, Dupieux has carved out a distinctive genre for himself, crafting a recognizable brand of signature filmmaking. And while his primary intent might be to entertain, Yannick sharply delves into the societal fabric, addressing the current climate of polarization and division.
Positioned as a contemporary folk comedy, it juxtaposes notions of of barbarity with civility, repression, and alienation. This is all framed within the tale of a night watchman who unexpectedly outshines veteran actors, traditionally the center of attention in their craft.
Yannick serves dual roles: the film acts as a cinematic revival of the once-dominant French theatre of the absurd, and there arguably couldn't be a more timely return, given today's context. This resurgence is channeled through a lens of folk comedy carrying a mainstream appeal, all the while offering a satire attuned to the nuances of today's polarized society and radicalized individuals.