Yannick: a disgruntled heckler hijacks a play in Quentin Dupieux’s wry comedy

Quentin Dupieux’s latest film is a touch more conventional than his usual absurdist offerings, but maintains a sharp, funny meta-commentary on the divisions between audience and artist.

8 April 2024

By John Bleasdale

Raphaël Quenard in Yannick (2023)
Sight and Sound

While some filmmakers are renowned for the painstaking length of the filmmaking process (Stanley Kubrick), or the lengthy interval between films (Terrence Malick) French surrealist and occasional DJ Quentin Dupieux has made speed his USP, zipping out two films in 2023 alone: Daaaaaali! which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and the Locarno-premiering Yannick. But, despite his quick turnarounds, there is nothing facile in Dupieux’s filmmaking, a fact underlined by the choice to award his upcoming film The Second Act with the opening slot at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Yannick is part of Dupieux’s ongoing exploration of the role of the artist in society. Daaaaaali! took the artist (Salvador Dali) as its starting point, but here we have a disgruntled audience member, the eponymous night watchman (Raphaël Quenard) who stands up in the middle of a ménage à trois comedy to complain that the play is adding to his problems rather than distracting him from them. His complaint is dismissed both by the actors and several members of the audience, but then he pulls a gun, raising the stakes significantly as he sets about rewriting the play. 

Part of Yannick’s wry irony is that the film is, in part, a reflection of the interrupted play, a point reiterated by its poster, where another similarly peeved punter has apparently graffitied over the protagonist’s face. Like the play, it is a chamber piece with a limited cast and an unsettling situation at its heart. (And perhaps likely to be watched in sparsely attended auditoria). 

But here the similarities cease. First off, Yannick does not stick around to test anyone’s patience, clocking in at a buttock-friendly one hour seven minutes. And unlike those of the play, the performances here are always convincing. Quenard is superb as the gun-wielding philistine, fulfilling an extreme version of many an audience member’s fantasy with a giggling psychotic edge. Pio Marmaï, Sébastien Chassagne and Blanche Gardin excel as the mediocre actors, caught in the middle of defending their art, fearing for their lives and realising Yannick might actually have a point.

On the surface, Yannick is a much more conventional creation than Dupieux’s previous films, which are populated by giant flies (Mandibles, 2020), cigarette-themed superheroes (Smoking Causes Coughing, 2022) and the murderous rampage of a car tyre (Rubber, 2010). And as such, it could be a perfect entry point for the uninitiated. Yet Dupieux’s film maintains a sharp meta-commentary on the divisions between audience and artist, middle and working class. It’s part of his huge talent that Dupieux creates such beguilingly weird films without ever being silly. Tragedy stalks his comedy in Yannick, waiting for the moment when the laughter will stop.

 ► Yannick is available to stream on MUBI UK & Ireland now. 

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