Final Cut (Coupez!) opens with a conflicted young woman (Matilda Lutz) fending off a young man (Finnegan Oldfield) with an axe, while trying to reconcile herself to the fact that he is no longer her boyfriend but a braindead zombie. It is a hackneyed, clichéd scenario, the patchy green makeup on the man is terrible, the woman’s acting is poor – and just as you are ready to call cut on your viewing, a director (Romain Duris) steps in and does it for you. For this was a movie in a movie (called Z), and the director, fed up with his lead actress’s lack of ‘sincerity’, is on his 31st take of the film’s final scene. Then, during a break in the shoot, the warehouse location is invaded by ‘actual’, albeit even more fake-looking, zombies, and cast and crew find themselves struggling to survive an apocalyptic curse, even as the director is overjoyed to be capturing live on camera the authenticity that had till now been eluding him.
There is, in this first third of Final Cut, a certain slippage between the characters and their players, between Z and its interpolated film, and between the overwhelmingly artificial and the disarmingly real. Players fluff their lines, look awkwardly away or directly into the camera, wander in and out of shot, looking more confused than scared by their predicament, all amid often random-seeming musical cues, and all shot in a single – if not remotely fluid – take, with the camera at times bizarrely immobilised, or even lying apparently unmanaged on the ground. Even more strangely, all the European characters here address each other with ill-fitting Japanese names, and keep referring to Japanese history (and pseudo-history). It is not good – but as the rest of Michel Hazanavicius’ feature serves to contextualise and take us behind the scenes of what we have just watched, all the most glaringly awful aspects of this long sequence are alchemically transformed into a joyous paean to the miseries and miracles of low-budget ensemble filmmaking.
As its closing credits make explicit, Z is a based on Shini’chiro Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead (Kamera o tomeru na!, 2017) – and so is Final Cut itself, as journeyman director Rémi (Duris) is hired by the Japanese film’s producer Mme Matsuda (Yoshihiko Takehara, who also appeared in Ueda’s film and its 2019 sequel One Cut of the Dead: In Hollywood) to stage a live, one-take remake of the telemovie for the launch of a new streaming service. As Rémi must negotiate the various difficulties (alcoholism, IBS, ego) of his cast and crew, and problems with his ex-actor wife Nadia and wannabe-director daughter Romy (in fact played respectively by Hazanavicius’ real-life wife Bérénice Bejo and daughter Simone Hazanavicius), he must also contend with interfering paymasters who insist that he make as few changes to the Japanese original as possible, even if that risks everything being lost in translation.
“You’ve lost all identity, dude. All volition. Is this Yamakoshi? A victim of globalisation? Rotted by the system? Post-apocalyptic piece of shit! .. What are you doing with your life besides being screwed by the capitalist system? You’ve lost your soul, bro.” So says the up-and-coming, over-earnest actor Raphaël Barrelle (Oldfield) who, as Bang in Z, is addressing a fellow player (Sébastien Chassagne, as actor Armel Lestuquoy as Yamakoshi) turned zombie – but Raphaël’s words also reecho as a commentary on the various layers of films in which he appears, and on the very real danger that these films-within-films(-within-films) may all just be soulless commercial cash-ins, lacking the vitality, not to mention the originality and integrity, of their Japanese source.
Yet it is, ironically, the very unoriginality of Final Cut – its hilariously half-hearted translation from its original cultural context into another where, as Rémi keeps pointing out, it barely fits – which gives this metacinematic take its own special texture. All at once remake and remaking-of, this ‘family film’ is a sophisticated poioumenon which makes virtues of all its foregrounded flaws, brings real charm to the horrors of filmmaking, and finds new reflexive life in old forms.
Final Cut (Coupez!) had its UK première at FrightFest 2022. Signature Entertainment presents Final Cut on Digital Platforms later this year.