The FilmSoc Journal is back for the 75th edition of the largest film festival in France, delivering a look at the hits and misses of the 2022-23 season.
◯ Warning: this review contains spoilers.
Dominic Ko reviews the unofficial French remake of the Japanese classic One Cut of the Dead and how it mirrors the original.
When Coupez! was announced to open the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, I questioned the need for a French remake of Japan’s One Cut of the Dead (2017), one of my favourite films of all time. One Cut of the Dead features a film within a film and was essentially about the lengths the production crew went to bring the featured film to life. Even with a humble budget of $25,000, it was a superbly creative zombie comedy that made Japanese box office history, by earning a thousand times its budget. In comparison, Coupez! poured €4 million into its budget. At first glance, it seemed to me like another Western big-budget exploitation of Eastern ideas, just like how Martin Scorsese remade Hong Kong’s Infernal Affairs (2002) with $90 million, and how Hollywood is looking to remake the smash hit South Korean action horror film, Train to Busan (2016) with The Last Train to New York expected to come out in 2023.
Walking in ready to despise the film, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much the director, Michel Hazanavicius, respected the original source material. While the film lacks the sophistication of Hazanavicius’s previous film, The Artist (2011), it nevertheless celebrates the beauty and passion of filmmaking, just as his Oscar-winning film did. Like the original One Cut of the Dead, Coupez! is a heartening affirmation of the lengths filmmakers go to bring art to life, and that there is always value to what one might consider ‘trash’.
Coupez! is almost a shot-by-shot remake of One Cut of the Dead, and the film acknowledges that by having the main character of the film, Rémi (Romain Duris), a struggling director, remake the film featured in One Cut of the Dead. This adds another metafictional level to the film, which was originally a comedy about filmmaking itself. In that sense, Coupez! feels more like a sequel to fans who have seen the original One Cut of the Dead, as it is essentially remaking the short film featured in One Cut of the Dead for a French audience.
Just as the original did, Coupez! starts with a thirty-minute one-take zombie film directed and starred by Rémi. The co-star in this one-take is his wife, Nadia (Bérénice Bejo, Hazanavicius’ real-life partner). They are joined by a popular yet arrogant male actor, Raphaël (Finnegan Oldfield), and a demanding Youtuber, Ava (Matilda Lutz). The thirty-minute one-take is presented as an amateurish, messy attempt, with various on-screen disasters. We are led to wonder why these French characters are addressing each other by Japanese names and why is the camera work so shoddy.
All is explained after the conclusion of the thirty-minute one-take. Like One Cut of the Dead, the next part of the film is flashbacks into the troubled lives of the cast and crew. They reveal how Rémi was recruited by the Japanese producer, Masuda (Yoshiko Takehara, reprising her role from One Cut of the Dead) to remake the film featured in the original movie. Masuda is adamant about the authenticity of the remake, so much so that she insists the French remake adheres to the original Japanese script, including the Japanese names of the characters. Struggling to make ends meet, Rémi agrees to the absurd task. Back home, Rémi’s situation is no less fortunate, as he strives to earn the respect of his daughter, Romy (Simone Hazanavicius, who is also strangely enough Hazanavicius’ own daughter). Romy, an aspiring director, is disappointed with Rémi’s ignoble cheap gun-for-hire status as a director. Nevertheless, she ends up joining her dad’s production, in hopes of getting close to the male actor, Raphaël. A series of unfortunate events ensue, causing Rémi to stand in as the lead actor on the day of the shoot, with his wife Nadia, standing in for the female lead. As the live telecast one-take film begins to shoot, the problems persist – including the main cameraman getting injured, and an extra showing up drunk on set. All of these explain the quirks and comically poor quality of the thirty-minute one-take we’ve just discussed.
The comedy in Coupez! largely relies on borrowed jokes from One Cut of the Dead, with toilet humour dialed to eleven. Where Coupez! shines though is in its original elements such as including one new character, the film composer, Fatih (Jean-Pascal Zadi), who struggles to improvise with the changes, and how the Japanese names seem to sound vulgar to the French. There is a certain French flair to the film, when Raphaël describes zombies as contemporary metaphors for capitalistic sheeple, but by and large, Coupez! does not bring anything fresh for a remake. Even if viewed as a sequel, it suffers from the lack of surprise that made the original so wildly entertaining. In my opinion, the biggest flaw of it is in the exploration of the father-daughter dynamics between Rémi and Romy. In the Japanese original, the reconciliation between the father and daughter was the core heart of the film. I felt that this plot point was culturally better suited for Japan, a society known to feature work-obsessed estranged dads. When transposed to French culture, the cathartic end did not pull the same emotional punch the original did.
Nevertheless, Hazanavicius does his very best to entertain with slapstick comedy. It is no surprise the programmers at Cannes picked this feel-good comedy on filmmaking to kick-start the festival, after two pandemic-affected years. Although I feel that a remake or sequel to One Cut of the Dead is highly unnecessary, I appreciate Hazanavicius’ explicit reverence for the original source material. Throughout the film, it consistently pays homage to the original material and self-referentially acknowledges that it is but a remake of a creative, ingenious work. I wished all western remakes of acclaimed Asian work can attribute their success to the original source material, just as pronounced as Hazanavicius did. But I accept that this is largely because of the meta-humoured source material Coupez! is based on. Ultimately, I would recommend everyone interested to check out One Cut of the Dead first, because I would charitably consider Coupez! a sequel to the movie, instead of an imaginative remake.
Coupez! is out now! Watch the trailer here: