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Cannes 2024: Dupieux, Fillières, Millet

Léa Seydoux and Raphaël Quenard in Quentin Dupieux’s The Second Act (2024)

Juliette Binoche becoming emotional as she presents an honorary Palme d’Or to Meryl Streep is a lovely way to open this year’s Cannes Film Festival. For weeks, organizers had been “bracing for a tumultuous seventy-seventh edition,” as Variety’s Tatiana Siegel and Elsa Keslassy put it, noting that the festival’s general secretary, François Desrousseaux, tells them that the team has taken part in fifteen security briefings this year, whereas last year, there were “only four or five,” so “I can tell you it’s a very serious matter.”

Anticipating calls for a ceasefire in Gaza as well as for the release of Israeli hostages, the city of Cannes has banned protests all along the Croisette for the duration of the festival, which runs through May 25. A private security firm will be watching over members of the international jury presided over by Greta Gerwig.

The #MeToo campaign has finally taken hold in France, and then there’s the matter of a potential strike by freelance festival workers—projectionists, box office staff, floor managers, drivers, press officers, and so on—in protest of French labor laws that will go into effect on July 1 and make it more difficult for freelancers to claim unemployment benefits. On Monday, Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux told the press that he’s hoping to solve the matter sooner rather than later “not just because we want to avoid a strike, but because they, too, want to avoid a strike.”

“This year, we tried to have a festival without any controversies,” said Frémaux. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be any, but there won’t be any that come from the festival itself. The reason we’re all here is cinema. We want to put cinema back in the spotlight.” For the time being, then, let’s do just that, beginning with some pretty exciting news. There’s a new critics’ grid to keep an eye on this year, Moirée, which will aggregate ratings of films as they premiere from eighteen critics we’re always eager to hear from.

The Second Act

Premiering out of competition, The Second Act from Quentin Dupieux, the filmmaker (Rubber, Deerskin) who also performs as a musician and DJ as Mr. Oizo, has officially opened the festival. It’s “a timely, self-aware, offbeat comedy that dials down the writer-director’s signature goofball sci-fi surrealism in favor of something a little more thoughtful and discursive,” finds Stephen Dalton at the Film Verdict. “This concise four-hander shows us Dupieux more as experimental dramatist rather than live-action cartoonist, riffling on semi-serious themes beneath its emphatically playful surface.”

For the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, The Second Act “would be a bit thin were it not for the rich, creamy thickness of the alpha-grade French acting talent involved.” As Louis Garrel’s David and Raphaël Quenard’s Willy stroll toward The Second Act, a restaurant out in the boonies, where Stéphane (Manuel Guillot) will be waiting on them, David tries to convince Willy to take his lovely girlfriend off his hands.Léa Seydoux—who, by the way, has already lined up projects with Leos Carax,Arnaud Desplechin,Ildikó Enyedi, and Arthur Harari, who cowrote last year’s winner of the Palme d’Or, Anatomy of a Fall, with his partner, Justine Triet—plays the girlfriend, Florence, who is preparing to introduce David to her father, Guillaume (Vincent Lindon). Everyone up on the screen keeps stealing nervous glances at the camera, slipping out of character, and tripping over some hot-button issue.

Turns out, they’re being directed in this movie-within-a-movie by a mean-spirited, robotic, AI-driven avatar. “The Second Act’s premise suggests little more than a sketch,” writes the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, “and it can certainly be enjoyed as such, with the four leads bouncing expertly through the script’s offbeat rhythms as veiled caricatures of themselves. But Dupieux elevates it by seeding entire swaying crops of confusion: we can never be entirely sure where scenes end and the mess of making them begins.”

Screen’s Tim Grierson finds that “neither the humor nor the commentary is incisive enough to sustain such a strained bauble,” and Little White Lies editor David Jenkins agrees. “If there’s anything to be salvaged from the film,” writes Jenkins, “it’s the actors, who are all on side with the director and savvy with his tricksy MO. Lindon, usually so serious and intense, allows his freak flag to fly, and Louis Garrel fires off some very funny little gestures between line-readings. Quenard is strong, but is saddled with most of the contentious material, while Seydoux has to push back against the ritual humiliations that come with her role.”

But for the Hollywood Reporter’s Jordan Mintzer, The Second Act may be Dupieux’s “strongest film yet . . . Not only is the script cleverly written, but the cinematography, including four epically long tracking shots, and the editing, which times all the jokes perfectly, are well-mastered. The fact that Dupieux did all of this by himself definitely merits some kudos . . . There’s perhaps nothing Dupieux can’t do at this point, except, perhaps, try and make a plain old ordinary movie—not that he’d ever want to.”

This Life of Mine

Sophie Fillières (Pardon My French, When Margaux Meets Margaux) was working on her seventh feature, This Life of Mine, when cancer took her. She was only fifty-eight. The film was completed by her two children, actors Agathe and Adam Bonitzer, and in July, Agathe will be at FIDMarseille when the festival presents a retrospective of her work and a tribute to her mother.

Fillières had a supporting role in Anatomy of a Fall, and Justine Triet tells Variety’s Ben Croll that she “pointed out a new way to make films that confronted the difficulties of everyday life in such a unique and humorous tone. And that was so unusual, and so very reassuring. Sophie’s work mixed light-heartedness, humor, and absurdity while confronting some extremely harsh subjects. Her work had a kind of purity.”

This Life of Mine has opened the fifty-sixth Directors’ Fortnight, and it stars Agnès Jaoui as Barberie Bichette, “a jovially flighty creative flake who is either taking leave of her senses or of life itself,” as Lisa Nesselson describes her in Screen. “She is an ad copywriter who dabbles in novels and poetry—or a poet and novelist who dabbles in corporate ad strategies. Hard to say. What is clear is that she has never liked being called Barbie.”

Fillières’s final film is “both a journey of self-discovery and a descent into the quotidian hell of chronic depression,” writes Jordan Mintzer. “Jaoui, whose spot-on performance seems to have been modeled on the late director herself, garners our affection from the opening scene.” This is “a film about endings,” writes Christian Blauvelt at IndieWire, “It couldn’t be more resonant as a filmmaker’s cinematic last will and testament.”

Ghost Trail

For personal reasons, director Rodrigo Sorogoyen has had to bow out of serving as president of this year’s Critics’ Week jury, so organizers have called on producer Sylvie Pialat to replace him and added another member as well, director Iris Kaltenbäck (The Rapture). The sixty-third edition has opened with documentarian Jonathan Millet’s first fictional feature, Ghost Trail, which the Hollywood Reporter’s Jon Frosch calls a “stirring, expertly judged thriller powered by a pair of blazing performances.”

Adam Bessa (Harka) plays Hamid, a Syrian who lost his wife and daughter to the ongoing civil war and has resettled in Strasbourg, where he has made contact with a network of fellow exiles who track down their tormentors—who have also set up new lives in Europe. Hamid believes he has found his torturer in Harfaz (Tawfeek Barhom), a university student living in Strasbourg under the name Sami Hana. Hamid’s handlers tell him he only wishes Harfaz is his man.

For Frosch, Ghost Trail is “a work of visceral intensity and formidable control, pulling you into a tight grip and holding you there. The cat-and-mouse premise and brisk, nerve-jangling execution are familiar from numerous other geopolitically timely spy/manhunt tales on big and small screens. But if Ghost Trail doesn’t necessarily buzz with novelty, it boasts a bracing sense of craftsmanship and purpose.”

“While the thriller element remains compelling, it is ultimately eclipsed by the gripping focus on a man haunted by the past,” writes Allan Hunter in Screen. Deadline’s Damon Wise notes that when the hunter and hunted finally meet, “the unexpectedly charismatic Harfaz, speaking in fluent undertone, tells Hamid, ‘Take advantage of this new life. Syria is in the past.’” This is “a common dilemma in a revenge movie—to get satisfaction or meekly walk away—but, with the icily intelligent Ghost Trail, Millet amplifies the agony, applying it to a whole generation of Syrians left picking up the pieces of their once-normal lives, facing an aching void where their futures used to be.”

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