Shin’ichiro Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead played on the Discovery Screen at FrightFest in 2017 – winning over those who saw it, and going on to a higher-profile than many a Main Screen feature. Now, it’s been remade by the Oscar-winning Michel Hazanavicius – which didn’t happen to Bubba’s Chili Parlor – and that version has scored a coveted very big screen slot. The original was a meta exercise that required audiences pay attention and put up with a demanding first act before getting to the heart of the matter – I know one usually perceptive critic who clocked all the ineptitudes and mistakes and turned the film off before the big turnaround and missed out on delightful later developments.
Hazanavicus repeats exactly the structure, character beats and jokes of the original film, but does add in a few touches that hark back – including the carry-over of a key character, executive producer Madame Matsuda (Yoshiko Takehara) – as the situation here is that French director Rémi (Romain Duris), who works fast and cheap and (distant third) competent, is hired to mount a remake of a one-take, live broadcast thirty-minute zombie film that was done in Japan. We first see the final product, with its fumbles, longeurs, inexplicable moments, non sequiturs, and muffed lines – and also the bizarre angle that manifestly French actors play characters with Japanese names – then loop back a month to the circumstances of the production, and finally get another look at the show with the camera pulled back to reveal and explain what was going on.
It’s a bit of a puzzler as to whether audiences who don’t know the original will be won over, since Coupez! Lacks the underdog angle of the minimally-budgeted Japanese film – and there’s a risk that audiences who have seen Ueda’s film will find this a bit redundant. But that’s the cleft stick with remakes – change things and fans will carp that the cheaper original was better, repeat things and it’s unimaginative. One angle Hazanavicius adds is that Rémi wants to make some changes but the French team are so tactless about Pearl Harbour (!) that Matsuda insists they don’t – as an admirer of the original, I’d have liked more jokes like this but I suspect they fall flat with newcomers. Bérénice Béjo and Simone Hazanavicius, the director’s wife and daughter, play the fictional director’s wife and daughter, who both get pressed into the film – Nadia (Béjo) as a last-minute substitute for another actress who settles the hash of a temperamental movie star (Finnegan Oldfield) with krav maga holds and Simone H as an assistant who contributes to the sweet final collaborative action that saves the last moments of the film.
There’s a bit of confusion as to what the film is called – the original title is either Z or Z (comme Z) – Z (as in Z) – but that got scrapped when Russia started using the letter as a swastika/war on Ukraine substitute. The film within the film might still be called Z. Taken as part of what now seems like a Hazanavicius trilogy about the personal cost of making movies – following The Artist and Le Redoubtable – Coupez! makes sense as an auteur work, even when it’s simply repeating jokes you’ve heard before. The climax, stressing the literal and figurative family effort necessary to get through a day on set, isn’t quite as affecting as it was when Ueda did it with far fewer resources, but the craggy Duris and canny Hazanavicius pull off a moment guaranteed to make film fans misty-eyed.