Has the Cannes Film Festival developed an unexpected taste for human flesh?
There were no flesh-eating ghouls wandering the Croisette as this year’s festival kicked off on Tuesday, of course, unless you’re speaking metaphorically. But for the second time in three festivals, Cannes’ opening-night attraction was a zombie comedy, bringing lots of blood and a few severed heads to a seriously classy cinema house, the Grand Theatre Lumiere, that is more accustomed to tonier fare.
Michel Hazanavicius’ “Final Cut” kicked off this year’s festival, just as Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die” did in 2019. In between those two zombie flicks, Cannes canceled the 2020 festival because of COVID and then came back from the dead in 2021 with Leos Carax’s “Annette,” which didn’t have zombies but was pretty kinky and creepy on its own.
But maybe it’s better to look at “Final Cut” less as an example of an odd Cannes trend than a creation all its own – and almost certainly the first-ever Cannes opening-night film to offer not just rampaging zombies and geysers of blood but also extended sequence devoted to farting, pooping, vomiting and other unsavory stuff.
Oh, and by the way, it’s the most entertaining Cannes opening-night film in a very long time. (Maybe since “Up” in 2009?) And in its own particular and seriously deranged way, “Final Cut” is as much a valentine to the act of filmmaking as Hazanavicius’ Oscar-winning film “The Artist” was when it debuted in Cannes back in 2011.
The director’s last two films to play Cannes, the earnest drama “The Search” and the Jean-Luc Godard riff “Redoubtable,” screened to mixed reaction, and “Final Cut” got off to a rocky start when it was scheduled for this year’s Sundance Film Festival but pulled out of the lineup when that fest went all-virtual. It was originally announced at Cannes under its French title, “Z (Comme Z),” but that title drew protests when the letter Z began to be used as a symbol of support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The film is now called “Coupez!” in France.
A remake of the 2017 Japanese horror-comedy “One Cut of the Dead,” “Final Cut” is silly and excessive and completely over-the-top, but it also brings out the lightness and deftness of Hazanavicus’ touch with comedy; the director somehow manages to fling body parts and bodily excretions at the audience for almost two hours, and yet you leave feeling as if you’ve seen a feel-good movie.
Like the original Japanese film, “Final Cut” takes place in three parts. In the first, we watch a cheesy horror movie start to unfold, with a pair of terrible actors struggling to act suitably frightened. The director (Romain Duris) yells cut, screams at his actors and then storms off the set – and while they’re waiting for him to calm down, the makeup artist (Berenice Bejo) tells the actors that the foreboding building where they’re filming was the site of human experiments by the Japanese army in World War II, and that legend says the living dead can still be summoned.
If you’ve ever seen a horror movie, you don’t need to be told that things go haywire from there. But beyond the zombie attacks and the plucky crew members who fight back while screaming things like “post-apocalyptic piece of s—!,” the opening stretch is just plain weird. It seems to be shot in one long, uninterrupted take, but why do these French-speaking people have Japanese names? Why does so much key action happen off-screen? Why do three people stand around saying “You OK? I’m OK” to each other over and over? Who’s the monster whose tattooed leg we see in the shed, and why does it go away?
It’s just a mess, really, but an amusing one that seems to be little more than a parody of cheesy horror flicks. But when it ends in a bloodbath, the film suddenly flashes back and shows us the director a month of so earlier– only now he’s a hack-for-hire whose motto is “fast, cheap and decent.”
He’s hired by a tiny and unnervingly cheery Japanese woman to make a low-budget, live, single-take zombie movie for the introduction of a new horror streaming service called Platforme Z – but after he tries to put his own stamp on the material, he’s told that he can’t change anything, not even the characters’ names.
The second part of the film shows this motley assortment of troubled folks as they prepare for their one-take magnum opus, and all that weird stuff from the first half-hour starts to make sense. The director is a hack, his wife might be unstable, the lead actor is a pretentious and egotistical jerk who wants to explore the class conflict he thinks is inherent in zombie movies, the boom operator has intestinal problems and another actor is a drunk.
Disastrous productions were a staple of entertaining drama even before the classic “Noises Off” hit the West End in 1982, so there’s nothing particularly new about taking the idea and transferring it to the cheap horror genre. But that doesn’t make it any less delicious when we get into the final stretch of “Final Cut,” revisiting the film’s original half-hour while also seeing every behind-the-scenes fiasco responsible for the mess
The third act is deliciously silly and ridiculously over the top, but Hazanavicius pays off pretty much every seed he’s planted in the first hour of the film. And a cast that also includes Gregory Gadebois, Finnegan Oldfield and Matilda Lutz is nothing if not game as they pay twisted tribute to the idea that the show must go on.
Does it take a certain appetite for fart jokes and barf jokes and games of keep-away with a severed arm? Sure it does. Will you get tired of it if you take your cinema (or even your horror) very seriously? Yeah, you might.
But if you’re up for glorious catastrophe drenched in blood, “Final Cut” is just plain fun. It’s a ridiculous movie that deconstructs its own ridiculousness, until it actually ends up being pretty endearing, in a disgusting bloody way.