Yannick review – Quentin Dupieux goes for laughs in absurdist theatre hijack comedy

Quentin Dupieux is one of the vanishingly small number of film-makers on the non-Anglo-American distribution circuit who really is interested in – and allowed to make – straight-up comedy, albeit flavoured with melancholy or violent absurdity. For me, only Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern are comparable. Aki Kaurismäki, for example, is different; although gently and wonderfully comic, his films don’t try to hit the laugh lines in the same way.

The prolific Dupieux has now created a 67-minute sketch, a one-act cine-play about a mediocre Paris stage company performing a dinner-theatre comedy called The Cuckold to a bored, half-empty house. Just as they are grinding through their tired old routines, a guy called Yannick (Raphaël Quenard) stands up in the auditorium and announces that this so-called comedy is making him sad and he wants his money back. The dumbfounded actors start mocking this jerk but Yannick pulls a gun, clambers on to the stage and demands a word processor and printer so he can write a better play for them. Is he a radical hero for disrupting mediocre bourgeois culture? If this is a hostage situation, he says, well, so is sitting through a bad play.

Yannick is a weird mix of Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, Haneke’s Funny Games, and the recent Broadway production of An Enemy of the People in which the actors Jeremy Strong and Michael Imperioli stayed in character to argue with climate protesters who were disrupting the performance. It’s an amusing idea, which incidentally features an acid wisecrack about arthouse cinema good taste. One of the performers, wretchedly disillusioned with his career, whimpers that he once dreamed of being a great movie actor like “Depardieu, Belmondo or Dewaele”. That third name presumably refers to David Dewaele, the troubled nonprofessional ex-con who appeared in three social realist films by Bruno Dumont and died of a stroke in 2013 at the age of 36.

Yannick doesn’t try blurring the lines between reality and performance in any Pirandellian way. The comedy is simpler than that. Yet there’s a touch of sadness as Yannick realises, as many other dramatists have done, that the actors are the ones getting the glory.

Yannick is on Mubi in the UK and Ireland from 5 April.

The Guardian