One of the stranger stories out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival was the selection of its opener. Opening Cannes isn’t necessarily a marker of prestige, since the honor has been bestowed upon such disposable titles as The Da Vinci Code, Cafe Society, The Dead Don’t Die, and Grace of Monaco in the past. Still, I was amused to hear that this year’s opener was a robustly budgeted French remake of the low-fi Japanese crowd-pleaser One Cut of the Dead. Final Cut was directed by Michel Hazanavicius, who’s been coasting for a full decade on the notoriety of winning a Best Director Oscar for The Artist. Otherwise, it appears to be the exact kind of anonymous mainstream comedy that never gets exported outside France, so that Americans assume most of the country’s cinematic output is its small crop of high-brown art films. Attempting to recapture the magic of One Cut of the Dead is a fool’s mission in any context, but there’s something especially absurd about an establishment filmmaker remaking it with real studio money and then getting the red-carpet treatment at the world’s most distinguished film festival.
One of the reasons it’s foolish for Hazanavicius to attempt replicating One Cut of the Dead‘s niche, low-budget magic is that One Cut‘s director Shinichiro Ueda has already championed his chosen successor. Ueda has proudly boosted the profile of the low-budget sci-fi one-shotter Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes as One Cut of the Dead‘s adorable kid sister, lifting it out of the festival circuit into international distribution. If it weren’t for that profile boost, the comparison wouldn’t do Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes many favors. While One Cut of the Dead transcends its low-budget zombie comedy medium to become a film about the joys of all low-budget filmmaking, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes has a lot less to say about the world outside its single-location microcosm. It’s an impressive feat in circular-logic thought exercises and microbudget filmmaking, though, and it’s easy to see why Ueda was won over by its surface-level charms as One Cut‘s spiritual successor. Selling the rights for the Final Cut remake was smart, but it’s nice to see Ueda’s still siding with D.I.Y. art projects on the other side of that paycheck.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes splits its 70min runtime between two rooms in the same cramped building: a ground-level cafe that’s closing for the evening and one of its baristas’ upstairs apartment. In a self-creating paradox, the barista discovers that his computer monitor can see two minutes into the future through a lagging stream of the cafe’s security camera. His future-self informs present-him of this two-minute loop, an anomaly that’s quickly discovered by a growing list of intervening friends who push past his fear & bafflement to test the limits of what the loop can do. It turns out that two-minute future vision is essentially useless, and the more our bumbling time criminals stretch the boundaries of that frustratingly brief timeframe the more they trap themselves in a self-perpetuating loop of small-scale fate. There’s some handwringing about the implications of contradicting the (very near) future they’ve already seen play out on the monitors, but for the most part the fun in the film is in watching them fail to expand the implications of this strange, isolated event into something bigger & more significant.
Of course, the only reason Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes has earned any comparisons to One Cut of the Dead is that both films are structured as one-long-takes, testing the limitations of that gimmick the same way Beyond‘s knuckleheads test the limitations of the two-minute time loop. In One Cut, the one-shot gimmick is a wonderfully concise summation of all the various restrictions of low-budget film production. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a lot less concerned about the authenticity of the gimmick, sloppily “hiding” its cuts in closeups on doors, clothes, and shadows. It’s a smart way to draw attention as a D.I.Y. production filmed on smartphones, but I got the sense that maintaining the real-time progression of the time-loop experiments was more important than maintaining the illusion of a one-shot production. In most one-shotters, the intended effect is to prompt the audience to ask, “How did they do that?” in stunned wonder. By contrast, these two films make it blatantly clear how they accomplished the feat. One Cut proudly highlights its production mistakes as part of its inherent charm, and Beyond doesn’t waste much energy at all on hiding the creases between its shots. Its time-loop conundrums are its main focus, so that its greatest strengths are in its writing instead of its framing.
In summation, One Cut of the Dead is a modern cult favorite, Beyond the Infinite Minutes is its adorable faint echo, and Final Cut is its flimsy plastic substitute. It’s hilarious to see which one got the red-carpet rollout at Cannes, even if there is plenty precedent for that exact kind of cornball programming at the fest.