Surprisingly, Final Cut was the film chosen to open last year’s Cannes Film Festival. A film receiving such an honour usually tends to be a rich and multi-layered exploration of an aspect of the human condition, but that description definitely does not fit this film! There is nothing cerebral about it. It is simply a comedy about B-grade zombie films – albeit one that provides an affectionate insight into how these films are made.
Final Cut is also one of the major films to be screened at this year’s Alliance Francaise French Film Festival which will run from March 23 until April 19 at Adelaide’s Palace Nova cinemas. This year’s festival will screen more than three dozen of the cream of the hundreds of films released by French filmmakers last year.
Directed by the award winning Michel Hazanavicius, the man behind the 2012 multi Oscar winning film The Artist, Final Cut is a close remake of Shin’ichiro Ueda’s 2017 Japanese hit film, One Cut Of The Dead.
Both this, and the original film, centre upon a director and his film crew who are charged with making a thirty minute low budget live-to-air zombie film for members of an internet horror streaming channel. This film, its producers insist, must be shot in real time, and in one single, continuous take.
The film works more successfully as a homage to the art of filmmaking, than it does as yet another entry into the over-crowded genre of the zombie film. Fans of the genre – beware! As far as zombie films go, it does not have that much to recommend it, as its horror film component is deliberately meant to be terrible.
However, in remaking Ueda’s film, Hazanavicius has created every meta-textual film fan’s dream – a film which sets out to film a film crew filming a remake of another film which features a film crew filming another film crew who are making a zombie film! (I hope I got that right…)
And this is from the man whose first feature, Mes Amis, in 1999, also had a plot which incorporated an expose of the way films are made as a key plot feature; and whose most successful film, The Artist, had a story arc that tied its central love story to the evolution of the technical advancements in filmmaking that escalated so rapidly within the period of the film’s plot timeframe.
To further confound – or excite – the meta savvy audience, Hazanavicius casts his life partner, Berenice Bejo, as the horror film’s director’s former actress wife, Nadia, and his real-life daughter Simone, appears as the fictional director’s daughter, Romy.
Nadia has been out of acting work for some time – she tends to be difficult to work with due to her tendency to strive for a tad too much reality in her roles – but, as circumstances would have it in Final Cut, she is required to step in at the last minute to play the key role of Natsumi, the make-up artist, in the low budget film her husband is directing. Subsequently, her unleashed intensity leads to a number of sudden script deviations and unforeseen comic situations.
Romy, it is revealed, also has a career in film but, after being sacked from her latest job for attempting to get a child actor to cry real tears instead of using the artificial alternative, ends up helping out behind the camera on her father’s zombie debacle. She ultimately, and with misplaced sentimentality, helps him to achieve some coherent structure in a film that is threatening to run off the rails completely at any given moment.
Romain Duris is totally believable in his role as the director, Remi, the central character whose philosophy is condensed down to three key tenets; he believes films should be made ‘fast, cheap and decent’.
As he takes any directing job he can, no matter how basic, he is employed by a Japanese producer (Yoshiko Takehara who reprises her role from the Japanese original) to make a European version of a successful Japanese online zombie film that must be completed quickly, cheaply and be of reasonably decent quality.
Remi, after some initial reluctance to take on the task, comes up with some good ideas but, after he makes a racist remark about Pearl Harbour, his employers insist he stick strictly to the original script – including, confusingly, having the European actors use the original characters’ Japanese names.
Sticking to the original script in a production that consists of one live single take provides Remi with a host of challenges, and plenty of scope for comedy as he doggedly sets out to fulfil his brief.
The structure of Final Cut may see some uninformed patrons heading for the exit doors much too early.
The first half an hour is, without any given context, taken up by a screening of the final version of the film that Remy creates for his streaming audience. It appears to be schlock filmmaking at its worst. The film is filled with unconvincing Z-grade acting, projectile vomiting, and axe wielding decapitations that spray fake blood across all and sundry. It is also riddled with plot holes, jerky hand-held camera work and seems, on the whole, to be a pretty mindless undertaking.
The film’s second act, however, changes tone and we are led through the period leading up to the final production day, allowing the audience access to the hitherto unseen world of contract negotiations, casting and rehearsing that must be undertaken in the production of every film – no matter how bad.
It is during this section that the film attempts to make its serious points about the sometimes negative, or politically incorrect, attitudes that can inveigle their way into a film’s subtext. In Final Cut, however, the points about racism and cultural appropriation that are being made seem awkward and heavy-handed, and generally out of synch with the general comedic tone.
The final third of the film returns, once again, to the zombie film as it is being made, but this time the audience have the advantage of another camera viewpoint which allows us to watch the film crew at work as they attempt to create their zombie epic. Revealing what actually goes on behind the scenes as the film is being made creates a mad rush of comic set pieces for Hazanavicius to engineer, reminiscent in many ways of the kind that Jacques Tati used to employ in his Monsieur Hulot films. We soon come to understand why some of the scenes in the original version ended up being less than Oscar-worthy.
Overall, this film’s raison d’etre seems to be to champion independent, guerilla film making and, as such, it succeeds in giving a loving insight into that particular world.
Through any other lens, though, it is not as successful.
As a film for lovers of a good old zombie holocaust, there is little to recommend it. Its zombie set pieces are deliberately hackneyed and unconvincing. As a feel-good family drama centring upon overcoming the father/daughter generational gap divide – as the ending seems to imply – it doesn’t cut it either. It marginalises this storyline for most of the film making the ending seem to come too far from left field. And, as a slapstick comedy, it is only partially successful because the humour relies far too heavily on the visceral or scatological kinds.
Nevertheless, there are moments of fun to be had whilst watching this film, that is if you are not too precious to chuckle at the occasional vomit or fart joke!
Final Cut will screen at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. Tickets for all festival sessions go on sale at the Palace Nova Cinemas from February 9.