The Movie Waffler New Release Review- YANNICK | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review- YANNICK

Yannick review
A stage production is hijacked by an audience member who claims he could write a more entertaining play.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Quentin Dupieux

Starring: Raphaël Quenard, Pio Marmaï, Blanche Gardin, Sébastien Chassagne, Agnès Hurstel

Yannick poster

French writer/director Quentin Dupieux continues his prolific streak with Yannick, which nobody was even aware of until a few weeks before its release in French cinemas in August 2023. In the English speaking world it has skipped cinemas to premiere on streaming service MUBI. At just over an hour in length, Yannick probably belongs on a streaming service, lest paying customers argue they aren't getting their money's worth.

That's exactly the complaint made by the film's titular protagonist/antagonist, played by Raphaël Quenard. In the middle of a Parisian performance of "Le Cocu", a mediocre comedy featuring three actors sleepwalking through their roles to a disinterested audience, Yannick stands up and interjects. Noting how he had to take a day off work and commute for two hours to see the play, Yannick claims he isn't sufficiently entertained. The actors and some audience members argue that art is subjective, but Yannick isn't having any of it. He claims that he could write a more entertaining play, and after being laughed at by the cast, he pulls out a gun and demands a laptop and a printer, forcing the actors to perform his impromptu creation to a literally captive audience.

Yannick review

Given its theme, it's ironic that Yannick is Dupieux's most accessible film to date. While its premise is absurd in concept, it's easy to imagine it occurring in real life, which isn't something you can generally say about the crazy ideas Dupieux has conjured from his wild imagination throughout his career. Log onto social media and you'll find a legion of Yannicks, men (they're always men for some reason) who claim they could do better than the latest offering from any given artist. It would be easy to ridicule such people, especially so if you possess the wit of a Dupieux, and I'm reminded of that time when Spurs manager Tim Sherwood invited a heckling fan to take over his job for the remainder of the match, which resulted in said fan being mocked by 40,000 people in the stadium and millions more online.

It's surprising then that Dupieux is so benevolent towards Yannick. As the film progresses, its sympathies begin to turn away from the actors, whom Dupieux increasingly portrays as insecure and arguably as unstable as the everyman holding them hostage, and towards Yannick, who begins to display a level of charisma that exceeds those on the stage (greatly helped by an oddly charming performance from rising star Quenard). Dupieux is the very definition of a Marmite filmmaker - you're either on board with his distinctive brand of absurdism or you're not - so it's not hard to imagine that he's had his share of hecklers. But rather than simply use his privileged position to belittle his detractors (like those celebs who gladly set their millions of online followers after some random nobody on social media), Dupieux explores the insecurity that dogs every self-aware artist. "Wait," he seems to be asking, "Am I the asshole?"

Yannick review

There's a key moment that sees Yannick getting the audience on his side by working them like Sammy Davis Jr at The Sands, which only exacerbates the actors' insecurity. Any artist who creates something unique runs the risk of alienating the general public, most of whom would prefer to settle for bland familiarity (at time of writing, Godzilla X Kong is dominating the box office). By pandering to the audience, Yannick turns them against the actual talent in the room, the actors they originally paid to see. This idea of making art obsolete by simply giving the public what they want has been rapidly heightened with the rise of AI in recent times. The Yannicks of the real world now look forward to the day when they can do without artists and creators, when they can simply prompt a piece of software to give them exactly what they want.

But Dupieux seems to suggest that perhaps artists and creators have played a role in their own downfall, that maybe the work has gotten so banal that it can be replicated by a piece of software or a deranged lunatic with a gun. I don't see it applying to Dupieux's milieu of French arthouse cinema, which has maintained a high standard throughout its history, but you'd have to be deluded to argue that mainstream western entertainment is in a healthy state. When it takes a small army of screenwriters to pen an unwatchable superhero movie, maybe the boasts of the likes of Yannick hold some weight. The impromptu sketch that Yannick knocks up is awful, but it's no worse than the play he's upstaged.

Yannick review

With Yannick, Dupieux wrestles with the uncertain crossroads the entertainment industry finds itself at. Is it more important to foster art or to entertain audiences? If people prefer to eat microwaved chicken tenders than a well prepared steak, are chefs irrelevant? Yannick gets to the uncomfortable truth that an artist's second greatest enemy is their audience. But Dupieux recognises that an artist's greatest enemy is their own insecurity. Yannick tellingly ends on an ambiguous note with the arrival of a heavily armed SWAT team. Who will be caught in the ensuing crossfire? The artists? The audience? Both? I fear we'll receive an answer in the near future.

Yannick is on MUBI UK from April 5th.

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