FINAL CUT (2023)
Release Date: 07/14/23 [Cinemas] [Tribeca '23]
Genre: Comedy. Horror.
Studio: Kino Lorber
"Things go badly for a small film crew shooting a low budget zombie movie when they are attacked by real zombies."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
To become an artist is to not only master a creative medium, but to master the art of megalomania. Imagine this: one day a simple idea pops into your head. From the minute that idea is born, you think about the many ways you can extract it. Once you finally get it out - either by page or by pitch - you work tirelessly until you’re given the tools to bring it to life. Once it’s in production, you do everything you can to make sure the end result aligns with your original vision. When that final draft is done, you review it over and over again until you’re happy, until your peers are happy, until you think the public will be happy. But you’re never happy with it because even when it is done, it’s not. There’s always something that could have been done better because...to become an artist is to become obsessed with perfection.
Now, very few films have successfully captured this obsession perfectly. While Academy Award winning director Michel Hazanavicius’ latest endeavor, Final Cut, just so happens to be one of those films.
Granted, it is a French adaptation of the Japanese zombie comedy film One Cut of the Dead, but that does not detract from how well it maintains the message. Similar to the original, this version follows a team of actors and filmmakers who are tasked with shooting a zombie film. As they begin to shoot the film, however, real zombies begin to inhabit their set. And so the line between reality and fiction is blurred for the audience. At least until the credits roll 30 minutes into the film.
In a fun and unexpected twist, it’s revealed that the sequence of events we’ve just witnessed were a movie within our movie. As the second act progresses, we meet our main character, a familiar-looking filmmaker by the name of Rémi. The reason he looks so familiar is because he was one of the stars of that faux movie. As we come to learn, he’s been directing smaller budget projects for years. While he’s always waited for his big break, his commitment to supporting his wife and his daughter by any means necessary have prevented him from taking any leap of faith. Until he’s approached by the producers at a new horror TV network based in Japan. They want him to direct the network’s first-ever original: a generic zombie thriller. While it seems obscure, it has several big names attached who he believes might help open doors for him if the project is a success. There’s only one problem though: the production must be filmed live and in one take.
Despite the obvious limitations, Rémi agrees. But having seen the final cut already, the audience already knows this. However, that doesn’t mean we’ve seen it all. The rest of the film’s brilliance lies in the numerous obstacles and egos Rémi faces as he prepares for the production, and how he deals with each even after the camera has started to roll..
At its most basic level, the film is a wonderful deconstruction of cinematic magic, showing the audience something from one perspective and then slowly proving that nothing is ever as it seems. For example, there are moments in the first act that seem totally intentional that are revisited in the third act and revealed to be unintentional. As previously stated, however, the film’s most obvious objective is to demonstrate how far an artist is willing to go to bring their vision to life. One of the most obvious examples of this is the simple fact that, as a result of several hilariously controllable factors (and as the audience already knows), Rémi winds up playing the director in the live production himself.
Rémi is played perfectly by Romain Duris. It’s not because he delivers one great performance, but two. On top of being the calm, family-oriented filmmaker, he has to play the over-the-top director in the film within the film. He balances both - and especially the reluctance to do the latter - effortlessly. It’s worth noting that Rémi looks almost identical to real-life director Hazanavicius. Aside from the thick-framed glasses and the fact that Hazanavicius’ real-life wife Bérénice Bejo also plays Rémi’s wife, it makes you wonder if Hazanavicius is adding an extra layer of self-awareness to this comedy to criticize himself. Considering he did win his Oscar for a film titled The Artist, after all, nothing should be considered too abstract.
Speaking of Bejo, she is absolutely hysterical in this. Having seen her mostly in dramatic roles over the years, it was refreshing to see her lean more into something lighter here. On top of playing the protagonist’s wife, she is also a former actress who had to retire because she would get “too absorbed” into her roles. Similar to Rémi, she finds herself spontaneously cast in the production (once again, due to hilariously controllable circumstances). But when the filming begins she becomes a true scene stealer with how far she loses herself.
Bejo leads a wonderfully comedic cast of characters who, like her, seem to have a bunch of seemingly random quirks and idiosyncrasies. In the third act, however, all of those little details resurface for maximum comical effect. And that’s just another example of why this film is smart. It is in no rush to entertain. It rewards those who wait with enough humor and heart to last long after the film ends.
From a technical standpoint, the film is also admirable. It shouldn’t be that surprising considering that the entire first act also doubles as the film’s first shot. If there were any edits made, they are so seamless that you can’t tell. While the latter two sections aren’t as technically complex, there are still some clever visual and audio gags that set this version apart from its predecessor. For example, there’s one character who is in charge of the music who begins to casually score some of the real life drama that plagues the set. It’s never appropriate, but it’s always hilarious. It’s also one of the few refreshing things this version has that isn’t in the original. That goes into one of the film’s only flaws.
Now, in the film, there’s a whole bit in the film about the characters in the zombie movie being forced to use Japanese names despite the fact that everyone in the film is French. While it’s a fun nod to the original, it’s also a metaphor for just how far removed the film is exactly from the original. As a whole, it appears that it’s so focused on being faithful to its source material that it barely adds anything to make it truly distinguishable. Make no mistake. That doesn’t make the film bad.
By the end, it still captures the essence of what it means to create and it shows the world how rewarding it is to see any vision through to the end. In a world with only so many original ideas, anything that’s uplifting and positive - regardless of the execution - will always have an audience. Because when it comes to inspiration there’s no such thing as overexposure.