Final Cut (Coupez!) Review – Michel Hazanavicius’ Zom-Com Love Letter to Cinema

Director Michel Hazanavicius has his own love affair with cinema that has seen him direct the Oscar winning The Artist an almost silent film about the silent film era and its transition to sound. He has also directed the Bond spoofs OSS 117, and Godard Mon Amour film about Godard’s marriage to actress and novelist, Anne Wiazemsky. Equally loving cinema in all its various forms it is little surprise that Hazanavicius chose to remake the meta-comedy Japanese zombie movie One Cut of the Dead. Shin’ichirō Ueda’s original work had a much lower budget and was played mostly for laughs, while Hazanavicius can’t help poke fun of the French film industry and its peculiarities and prejudices. It’s a dizzying experience where the sheer audacity of the work and its “Frenchness” are the reason to watch an almost beat for beat remake of the Japanese film.

Anyone familiar with One Cut of the Dead already knows the set up. For those who are not, Final Cut begins with a z-grade zombie movie being made by a manic and bullying director who seems to believe he’s an auteur. The first thirty minutes are a weird film called Z in which a group of people making a zombie film are attacked by apparently real zombies that the director has summoned to get veracity for his film. The zombie movie is filled with weird errors in continuity, terrible acting, and is about as messy as any low-budget film could be, but perhaps almost worse. When the final titles flash on the screen we see the whole thing is a live streamed event for a Japanese platform.

The film then flashes back a few months to how Z came into being. Remi (Romain Duris) is a journeyman director who mostly works in advertisements, crime recreations, and news stories. He’s known for being “fast, cheap and decent,” something his pretentious film school daughter, Romy (Simone Hazanavicius – like many of Hazanavicius’ films this one is firmly a set-piece for his own family) finds distressing as she aspires to be the new Tarantino or Scorsese (cue jokes about French directors and their preoccupation with American cinema, a joke that Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep slyly made).

When Remi is brought the project by his producer Mounir (Lyes Salem) of remaking a Japanese zombie film in a live unbroken take he scoffs at the idea and thinks that even his not particularly shining reputation could be damaged by it. He turns it down until Romy spots her new favourite actor Raphaël Barrelle (Finnegan Oldfield) doing a Cannes interview and he mentions that his next role will be in a horror film. Turns out that that film is Z, and Remi hoping to impress his daughter agrees to take on the film. His wife Nadia (Bérénice Bejo) is an ex-actress who keeps herself busy watching krav maga videos and reading all Remi’s scripts.

What happens from inception to production is in itself a stinging farce. Remi is a patient man but he’s working with a group of generally unpleasant people whose egos are wildly out of control. Raphaël Barrelle, who really does consider himself France’s answer to Adam Driver, casually name drops Lars Von Trier and argues about the reality of zombie movies and their philosophical interpretations as anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist metaphors. The final girl Ava (Matilda Lutz) is an Instagram influencer who worries that she will lose followers if she’s seen getting too scruffy. There is an elder statesman actor whose career has been ruined due to excessive drinking. A fussy actor who can only tolerate soft water who is also an unashamed misogynist. Another actor who immediately starts to flirt with one of the other female leads.

To say rehearsals are a nightmare is an understatement. None of it is made any better by the bizarre Mdme Matsuda (Yoshika Takehara, reprising her role from the original film) as the financier who digs her heels in on the script when an exhausted and fed-up Remi makes some off-colour comments about Pearl Harbour.

As the filming date looms it seems that there is no way that Z will work, although there are some members of the crew who remain upbeat about it, including the music supervisor Fatih (Jean-Pascal Zadi) and Mounir who really is of the opinion that getting it at least half right is enough and that the dollars are more important than the art.

Eventually we come to filming day and everything that can go wrong does go wrong, including the people who were originally to play the director and make-up artist in the film being in a non-fatal car crash which leaves the cast short two main characters. Remi steps into the role of director, and much to his distress Nadia steps into the role of Natsumi, the make-up artist. Nadia had to give up acting because she lost the ability to recognise what was real and what was not in a production. Romy states that one time she broke Jean Claude van Damme’s arm in a movie.

The sheer chaos of watching what goes on in the beleaguered production is hilarious. Remi playing Higurashi actually unleashes all his pent-up frustrations on his cast, but still has to cope with so many over the top incidents (Nadia’s mania, other stars drunkenness and incontinence, a script that needs to be improvised and rewritten on the spot, a change of cinematographers, the breaking of the crane for the final shot). When the credits roll on Z you have to admire the herculean efforts of the people, especially Remi and Romy, to make the essentially disposable product a reality.

Love letters to great cinema happen all the time, we are at a stage where it seems we are almost saturated by them. Not many films take the time to celebrate “trash” cinema and the behind the scenes work that occurs to get a zero-budget project happening. Sure, Final Cut has been done before, quite literally, but Hazanavicius’ film revels in its own absurdity (there’s even a cameo by Quentin Dupieux which will give you an idea how seriously the film is taking itself). French people recognising that French cinema is more than a bit pretentious at times is a treat. There is a lot of fun to be had with Final Cut just to see how ridiculous the industry can be.

Director: Michel Hazanavicius 

Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Romain Duris, Simone Hazanavicius

Writers: Michel Hazanavicius, (based on One Cut of the Dead by Shin’ichirō Ueda and Ryoichi Wada)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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