Quentin Dupieux’s black comedy, “Yannick” (2023), is a telling ode to the complex relationship any art performance has with its audience. Any film, concert, or play always has the ability to disappoint its audience if the performers decide to phone it in. Yannick is all of that and much more. At a runtime of sixty-seven minutes, “Yannick” is a crisp ode to the subjectivity of art and the audience’s perception of it. If Travis Bickle were in the audience, it would be exactly what the film would be about.
Yannick, played by the brilliant Raphael Quenard, isn’t satisfied by the terrible play “Le Cocu,” and he dares to stand up for his time and the amount of effort he put in to be there. Pio Marmai, who plays the character of Paul Riviere, stands out as someone guarding the treasures of what “high art” is. Yannick’s base desire is to be satisfied, and according to him, the play is hacky and makes absolutely no sense to him, and he is not entertained.
The film subverts the concept of what art is or, rather, what is interpreted as art in the most common of senses. The socialist overtures of “Yannick” are pretty evident when the titular character demands why he is being subjected to such mediocrity as he has taken time out of his busy schedule to be there. He clearly isn’t a happy customer, and the product by itself is bad. Taking from the Brechtian school of thought, how can the product be fit for consumption when the playwright is alienated from the product and, by extension, the people? Yannick crudely makes this point when he demands to see the director about his work and finds out he isn’t present. He asks what would happen if this happens in a restaurant and if he, unsatisfied with the quality of food, wants to meet the chef, and he is not there.
His assertion is not wrong in such a scenario. Dupieux very strategically brings up the concept of the passive viewer and what if the viewer isn’t so passive anymore. In an attire matching that of Travis Bickle, Yannick, fed up with the so-called snobbery of the people controlling the means of production, takes over…with a gun. Even though he is the one holding the gun, he never is shown to be threatening in any manner. His image is constructed in the minds of his fellow audience as someone trying to right the several wrongs committed. He is their savior, trying to salvage the night after a below-par performance from the people on stage. With the help of his fellow audience, Yannick decides to write a script and make the actors perform, which would be worthy of a night for which he had traveled sixty minutes.
The film also tries to understand how Yannick has taken the art as hostage rather than the audience watching it. By extension, the film also takes a subtle dig at the performing arts industry, where people are asked to bend over backward to go and watch something while being on their best behavior. Now that a member of that audience has taken over and is asking to do the same by holding the actors to a higher standard of artistic integrity, the actors are unable to do so. Even though Paul wanted to take over him and, in the process, take his gun, he never could achieve what Yannick had done in those few hours.
Not only had he written a script that generated quite a few laughs from the audience, but he also made sure he became friends with the audience. This crossing of the threshold is something that art does not consider. Art is subjective and is supposed to be understood by different people in different ways than one. Even though that is the norm, this impersonality is something that ends up bothering Yannick.
The commentary is never-ending as the director also tries to understand how capitalism and greed for more money have rendered art as a cheap parlor trick for the wealthy. Dupieux’s mastery over his craft is ingenious as he finds that balance between impulsiveness and a man demanding something that is practical in nature. When Paul overpowers Yannick and takes away his gun, his revelation that the theatres are half empty and barely anyone is enjoying their vapid acting and directorial skills is a moment of brilliance. The actors’ vulnerability arises from how Yannick, despite being a hostage taker, has forged relationships by just speaking with the audience members, whereas he, as an actor, has been unable to communicate with the audience.
The relationship between the audience and art is ceaseless, and neither can survive without the other. The film captures this intricate power politics where the artist puts himself up on a pedestal and treats his audience as a hostage. The whims of the artist ruling over the wants and needs of an audience is fanciful, and the director tries to break that while ensuring that the narrative stays true to the subject. When you have a Travis Bickle in the audience, is it important to perform to the best of your abilities and whether you need someone like a Travis Bickle’ish Yannick to make sure that artists remain nothing but responsible citizens in the country by providing quality work to its consumers?
The question also remains: How much will an audience go to make sure that performative arts are understood the way they are supposed to be? Dupieux also poses the questions of spectatorship, whether the definitions of spectatorship need to change, and whether people are given the quality of art that they so rightfully crave. For Yannick, the identity of money is irrelevant as he is more concerned about time. Artistic responsibility is in question. If Yannick has to spend sixty minutes to consume art, isn’t there a responsibility on the artists to deliver work that is worthy of his time?
Dupieux’s question on whether capitalist greed should guide art as that would mean there won’t be a space for creativity, and the sameness would be rampant in modern-day art practices is also important. Yannick poses these subversions brilliantly in this black comedy.