Venice 2023 review: Making of (Cédric Kahn)

“With Making of Cédric Kahn adds insight into the idea that sometimes the most interesting stories are the ones that might not even make it onto the big screen.”

World cinema has always been very interested in its own conception. Plenty of films are about the art of filmmaking. Whether a love letter to it or a conscious parody of it in the spirit of fun, a ton of countries have already had their versions – France’s history with it goes all the way back to Godard’s Contempt and Truffaut’s Day for Night, and all the way up to Hazanavicius’ Oscar-winning The Artist. And now the country has another title to add to their library: Cédric Kahn’s Making of.

In Making of, playing at the Venice Film Festival in the Out-of-Competition section, we are introduced to a wide variety of characters in the movie – there is the director who can’t seem to get everything into place, the financiers who want their happy ending, the veteran lead actor who decides to be a diva on set, the producer tasked to fix all the film’s budget issues, and the budding director who was commissioned to shoot a behind-the-scenes ‘making of’ documentary.

The film is at its best when it deals with the issues at play when making a film. There’s the age-old question of a director willing to compromise his vision to please the film’s financiers who are more concerned with the potential commercial success. There’s also the optimism of someone who intends to break through in the film industry, knowing that they will start from the lowest point and taking any opportunities possible, even if that means roaming around the set to capture literally anything just for the sake of it.

The film-within-a-film also dabbles with social topics, like shedding light on striking factory workers, the subject of the film the auteur is working on. As Making of touches on this it gains an additional complexity in the storytelling. After all, the issues discussed here – underpaid workers, torn labourers, possibilities of losing work – all mirror the stressed film crew trying to just finish this production. And given the current actor and writer strikes going on in Hollywood, it gives the project a timely undercurrent, ironically in a film that is about the industry.

With the many subjects and characters that Making of has to follow there is a tendency of biting off more than one can chew, and the film loses a bit of its momentum whenever it decides to focus on any of its side stories that do not revolve around the shooting of the film-within-a-film at its heart. Joseph’s romance and his struggles in his other job at his sister’s pizzeria feel a bit lost in the shuffle, particularly in the bigger picture. It also feels a tad convenient that the film poses questions without providing answers, and it could have at least separated them off and given them a more maximum impact altogether.

What makes the film fun to watch is its large ensemble of French actors playing the long list of roles – Denis Podalydès as the auteur, Stefan Crepon as the aspiring director, Jonathan Cohen as the lead actor making things more difficult, and small turns by Emmanuelle Bercot, Xavier Beauvois, and Valérie Donzelli. Even more fascinating when you think that the latter three are all film directors as well. In the end, with Making of Cédric Kahn adds insight into the idea that sometimes the most interesting stories are the ones that might not even make it onto the big screen.