Yannick: The Relationship Between The Creator And The Audience In Art
by Rasha Hosny
The process of receiving art and creativity in its various forms has always fascinated many writers and creators for discussion, as the creative process is not complete without it. It is customary for the artist to talk about their work, attempting to bridge the gap between them and the other participants in the creative process, including the audience and critics. It is also customary for critics to analyze works of art, aiming to highlight the reasons for their admiration or rejection, as well as pointing out their strengths and weaknesses. However, the audiences remain the weakest aspect in this equation. They are not usually given the opportunity to express their opinions and reactions to the artistic works presented to them or those they choose to watch.
This is the hypothesis on which the distinguished French director Quentin Dupieux has based his latest film, Yannick, which had its world premiere at the 76th edition of the Locarno International Film Festival. The film raises the question: What if the audiences decide to express their opinion about the artistic work they are watching, even to the point of replacing it with another work of their own creation?
Starting from this hypothesis, which Dupieux approaches with absurd comedy, the film gains freshness and a unique dimension, as it is one of the rare occasions when we see on screen the voice of one from the audience who decides to interact with the artistic work, express his immediate opinions, and discuss with the creators, which is exactly what Yannick did.
Yannick, the film’s protagonist, is a simple night-guard who decides to take a 45-minute train ride followed by a 15-minute walk in the one night he manages to get an exceptional break from his grueling life. He goes to a small theater in Paris to watch a comedy play, hoping to forget his worries and enjoys a pleasant evening, recharging his energy before returning to his oppressive, joyless daily routine. As Yannick watches the play Le Cocu, he finds himself not enjoying it but feeling bored and uncomfortable. He decides to stop the actors and share his perspective on the play, criticizing their artificial and poor performance, which only adds to his troubles and the miseries he came to the theater to escape. The discussion continues for a few minutes, and then it escalates until it culminates with Yannick brandishing his gun, which he uses in his job, to compel the actors of the performance to enact the play that he will write, utilizing one of the laptop computers belonging to a spectator.
Reluctantly, they comply with his demands out of fear of the situation escalating further, even though they believe his script is naive and riddled with grammatical errors. The situation ends with a look of satisfaction and happiness on Yannick’s face as he witnesses the audience’s reaction and hears their laughter at the text he wrote, perhaps feeling his existence and his ability to influence others for the first time in his life.
Dupieux succeeds in adding several dimensions to the premise of his film, enriching the reception process and giving it additional dimensions beyond the initial aspect of the relationship between the recipient and the artwork. These dimensions include the human, psychological, and social aspects of the film’s protagonist, Yannick.
Yannick is a marginalized individual ground down by the relentless whirlpool of everyday routine – just to stay alive. Yannick, who suffers from failed romantic relationships due to his oppressive work schedule that no partner can endure, can barely manage a limited number of hours of sleep to keep him going for the next day. He rarely gets vacations, only in exceptional circumstances, making any time off a precious opportunity that he must make the most of. He is simply an invisible and unheard individual, like the vast majority of ordinary people who are treated as mere numbers indicating the population census.
Dupieux skillfully depicts Yannick’s character with its various dimensions, starting from his simplicity in dress, his limited knowledge of language and grammar, his way of speaking, and the vocabulary he uses. These details help the audience to relate to him and perhaps find joy in his happiness at the end of the film when signs of satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment appear on his face.
Through the intensification of the situation between Yannick and the actors of the play, Dupieux manages to humorously present the age-old yet relevant idea suitable for discussion in any time and place: the concept of power and authority, and how they can change human behavior. As we see Yannick holding the gun, using it as a symbol of power and giving himself superiority, we realize that using the gun was never in his plans. He only used it to ensure he could spend the hours he had managed to secure as a break to watch an entertaining play that could help him forget his troubles. However, the situation takes a completely different turn when one of the actors attacks Yannick and seizes the gun, shifting the balance of power in his favor. He doesn’t hesitate to fire a shot to force Yannick to lick the theater floor, humiliating him and behaving hysterically simply because he feels inferior due to the audience’s sympathy with Yannick and their taking his side.
Through his film, Dupieux demonstrates that comedies with a simple plot, a single setting, and a limited budget can carry meanings and ideas of great seriousness, freshness, and importance.
Edited by Birgit Beumers
© FIPRESCI 2023