Quentin Dupieux’s ‘Yannick’ Wins Locarno Best European Film Prize

‘Yannick’ Review: Quentin Dupieux’s Twisted Take on French Boulevard Theater

Since his delirious 2007 debut, Steak, DJ turned director Quentin Dupieux has kept up a steady pace of one or two features a year, making him among the most prolific filmmakers currently working in France. One of the ways he pulls this off is by being a cinematic one-man-band, penning his own scripts, then shooting, editing and sometimes scoring his own movies, which tend to clock in somewhere between seventy and ninety minutes.

He’s tackled many different genres over the past decade, from comedy to thriller to horror to sci-fi, often blending two or three of them into a single story. And yet what all his films have in common is a totally absurdist, idiosyncratic approach that mixes high-concept plots with a tone best described as deadpan surrealism. In a sense, he’s invented his own genre by now, which I guess the French would call “Dupieuxien,” as in: “That film had a very Dupieuxien premise.”

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The Bottom Line

The show mustn’t go on.

Venue: Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande)
Cast: Raphaël Quenard, Pio Marmaï, Blanche Gardin, Sébastien Chassagne, Agnès Hurstel
Director, screenwriter: Quentin Dupieux

1 hour 7 minutes

Yannick, his latest feature to hit screens at home — and one of two movies he’ll release in 2023, the other being the art mockumentary Daaaaaali!, which premieres early September in Venice — is definitely Dupieuxien, if a tad more mainstream than some of his other works. This may explain why the tiny film, set entirely in a theater in Paris, has been a modest box office hit this summer, selling over 200,000 tickets (a gross of roughly $1.5 million) in only two weeks. (It may have also helped that Dupieux launched an online stunt whereby anyone with the first name Yannick could see the movie for free.)

Another explanation is that Yannick takes the very French, and highly commercial, genre of boulevard theater (théâtre de boulevard) and turns it on its head, appealing to both fans of that popular genre and arthouse viewers familiar with the director’s previous movies. The film, which is just over an hour long, dishes out some smart twists and a few good laughs, as well as a decent level of suspense. But like many of Dupieux’s movies, it’s also a strong concept in search of something more.

The pitch is shrewdly simple: During a performance of the boulevard comedy The Cuckold, Yannick (Raphaël Quenard), a security guard who lives in the Paris suburbs, takes the theater hostage and demands to become the playwright. Shenanigans ensue.

That’s all you need to know, and that’s basically all that happens. During the film’s opening minutes, Dupieux flawlessly recreates the kind of broad, overacted plays that are still highly popular in venues located along the Boulevard St. Martin and Boulevard Montmartre (thus the term “boulevard theater”) on Paris’ Right Bank.

Thespians Paul (Pio Marmaï, The Divide), Sophie (standup comic Blanche Gardin) and William (Sébastien Chassagne, Final Cut) are in the middle of their umpteenth performance of The Cuckold — which, like many boulevard comedies, is all about adultery — when Yannick suddenly stands up in the audience and tells them in his own unpolite way that their play sucks. He’s not wrong, and he’s also pissed off because he only has one free night a week and has wasted it watching their show.

In the real world, Yannick would be ushered out and the play would go on. But this is a Dupieuxien plot, and so the scene gradually degenerates until the guard whips out a gun and forces his way onto the stage, telling the cast he’s taking over. More shenanigans ensue.

It’s not fair to spoil what happens afterward, although it’s worth mentioning that, as in several of Dupieux’s movies, this one ultimately lacks a punchline or something resembling a full denouement. This in turn could explain why so many of the director’s films are short: They’re drawn from clever ideas that are never carried all the way to their conclusion, much closer to sketches than to fully completed paintings.

This, however, doesn’t mean they can’t be fun to sit through, and Yannick is mostly that, with a handful of lively performances and a few hilarious one-liners scattered throughout the mayhem.

Quenard, who made his feature debut a year ago in Dupieux’s Smoking Causes Coughing, steals the show both literally and artistically, playing an average Joe who believes he has the right to express himself as much as the professionals on stage. With a working-class provincial accent (the actor hails from the banlieue of Grenoble) that makes his character a total standout among the snootier Parisian theatergoers, Quenard manages to brings a fun brand of class consciousness to the worn-out boulevard genre.

Chattier than many a Dupieuxien work, and less filled with visual flourishes, the film is still handsomely shot, and also cut together without a single ounce of fat: Dupieux’s movies are many things, sometimes too many things, but they’re rarely boring to sit through. In Yannick, the director seems to know exactly what he’s going for and he mostly gets it — even if the “it” is more of a concept or feeling than a statement with any deeper meaning.