Yannick quentin dupieux

Quentin Dupieux continues his run as France’s greatest comedy director with Yannick

4 out of 5 stars

Quentin Dupieux’s latest absurdist comedy, Yannick, takes place in a theatre. As the film begins, a play called Le Cocu (The Cuck) unfolds on a stage dressed as a kitchen. The comedy is broad and obvious, taking advantage of the premise of a man being cuckolded to make jokes about IBS and typical battle-of-the-sexes humour. Suddenly, out of the sparse crowd, rises Yannick — he’s a nightwatchman on his night off. He had to request time from his boss, get a replacement and take 45 minutes of public transit plus another 10-minute walk to get to the play. He doesn’t think it’s good, and it’s not long before he returns wielding a gun, insisting they put on a better show. 

Running at just over an hour and taking place almost exclusively in a theatre, Yannick finds Dupieux continuing his run as France’s great comic director. The former DJ and electronic music producer (stage name Mr. Oizo) has come a long way since his feature debut in 2010, Rubber — a compelling but overly long film about a murderous tire. Now churning out almost one film per year, his cinema continues to embrace the “one joke” ethos to pitch-perfect effect. 

Yannick manages to synthesize Dupieux’s greatest talents, blending cringe, absurdism and class differences to great effect. The film, which can be fundamentally broken down to a critic gone rogue, works as pure text: it’s funny, silly and engaging. It’s a film that will make you laugh and die a little inside. The entire cast is brilliant, but Raphaël Quenard as Yannick is especially good as he manages to channel a kind of monotone intensity, a man on the brink who is at once unhinged but fundamentally likeable. He’s mad as hell but in the most gentle sense of the word. 

What elevates the film beyond just a big gag, though, are the underlying tensions. Yannick stands out in the crowd for a number of reasons. He’s an “everyman” working six days a week to make ends meet. His days off are precious, and the disappointing play underlines the hopelessness of his situation. He wants to be entertained, not out of entitlement but desperation. Most other audience members are middle- and upper-middle-class men with time to spare. Crucially, too, he struggles with heartache. The play, about a man being humiliated by the woman he loves, played for laughs, seems to strike an uncomfortable chord within his lonely existence. 


As the film progresses, Yannick insists on writing his play for the actors to perform. He can barely type, but he makes do. Someone from the theatre staff had to drag in a giant printer so the actors could have the scripts. The whole thing is played out impeccably without revealing precisely the contents of his writing, as the poorly written, expository script unveils something profoundly human about Yannick’s life experience. Though less polished than Le Cocu and barely literate, his writing strikes an uncomfortable and felt truth. The audience’s reaction feels sincere, far more than the tepid responses to the “professional’ theatrical experience.

What does that leave for the audience? On one hand, Yannick is a critique on leisure, how the time spent engaging with art is taken for granted by the classes of people who have time for themselves. While there’s some argument to be made for the film supporting the idea that art should be entertaining, it’s closer to embracing accessibility and truth. Not all that is shiny and big and bright feels heartfelt, made with a sense of truth. It sounds glib, but as someone who watches many films, it’s not unusual to find myself more likely to be touched by a student film made with little means than a mega-blockbuster. Art is not just gloss; it’s feeling and a desire to connect with others, to be understood. Fundamentally, that’s all Yannick wants: to be heard and respected. 

That’s what works so beautifully in Dupieux’s films. Despite the broad caricatures, there’s a lot of humanity there. The characters have desires, ambitions and needs. The premise might be absurd, the humour ridiculous, but it also manages to touch on some painful emotional beats. Yannick is just an exceptionally pleasurable experience, cringe included. ■

Yannick (directed by Quentin Dupieux)

Yannick is currently playing in Montreal theatres.

For our latest in film and TV, please visit the Film & TV section.