The “film within a film” aesthetic of Cédric Kahn’s Making Of makes the movie lose momentum and focus after a promising introduction.
In 1996, French filmmaker Oliver Assayas gifted us Irma Vep (and a few decades later, remade said film into a brilliant limited series), which is considered one of the best modern movies about filmmaking. Both the movie and the series that followed took jabs and made clear indictments about the industry via some metatextual craftiness. It wasn’t a satire per se, nor an ode to cinema, but a reflection of how that world has changed throughout the decades and the revision of nostalgia as a form of product. Since then, many other directors have tried to make their versions of a self-referential dig or exploration of cinema in various ways. The latest one to arrive, Making Of, is premiering at this year’s Venice Film Festival, and it is director Cédric Kahn’s second feature of the year.
Making Of is divided into three separate acts, all of which blend fiction with reality at a constant rate to create a story filled with juxtapositions about what happens in and out of the frame. After a camera guy accidentally enters the frame, both the cast and crew of well-known French filmmaker Simon’s (Denis Podalydes) latest project go mad because they are tired and hungry, due to the many takes they have shot for that specific introductory scene. Immediately, there’s a juxtaposition between the chaos on the set and in the movie Simon’s filming, because the latter is about workers fighting to protect their factory from being relocated so that they don’t lose their jobs and are able to feed their respective families. But things begin to fall apart quickly.
Though nothing goes as planned, the director wants to handle situations in the most organized way. Situations arise with the actors, specifically the lead, Alain (Jonathan Cohen), who is so egocentric that nobody wants to deal with him no matter the cost. But the writer, producer, and cinematographer are also causing problems. The first person to tumble the domino to create a chain reaction of disarray is Simon’s producer Viviane (Emmanuelle Bercot), who wants to rewrite the ending for a “deeper effect” – and somewhat screw the director because of his attitude. If Simon doesn’t comply with her demands, she will cut the budget by a large margin, destroying the chances of the film being made, and he will receive a lawsuit in the process.
Simon’s work life is turning into a complete mess, with all of these shenanigans simultaneously piling up one by one. While Simon deals with people meddling with his artistic vision, in addition to his crew going on strike, his personal life is now also in shambles. In essence, everything is going down the dumper for both Simon and his slowly falling-apart film. Amidst these circumstances, an extra who wants to get into the film industry, Joseph (Stefan Crepon), is making a behind-the-scenes picture about the creation of Simon’s movie, aka a “making of _____” – hence the self-referential and playful title. Joseph follows everyone around to capture the experiences of shooting a movie. But, as you continue to notice when watching the Making Of, the shoot is a total mess.
Joseph takes advantage of this sticky situation to see if he can craft something of value out of the cast and crew’s anger toward the film’s development. There are occasions when the behind-the-scenes look ends up being better than the film of which it shows the inner workings. That mostly happens when a project doesn’t get the light of day and is never released, like It’s All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles, Lost in La Mancha, and Jodorowsky’s Dune. Cédric Kahn’s second feature to hit the European festival scene this year tries to sell you that the story behind the camera is more interesting than what’s happening on-screen.
It is true that some of the scenes where you see Simon struggling to find his footing as a husband and filmmaker are far more interesting than the on-set issues and predicament. However, the constant intertwining between reality and fiction is handled in a way that makes both sides of the narrative feel as messy and disorganized as what’s happening to the lead character. On occasions, it seems that it is purposefully made to reflect the chaos: everyone is giving each other a headache because the whole shoot is in shambles. Yet, Making Of never seems to settle into a territory it seems comfortable with when taking its self-referential satire. While it hints at the metatextual and mordant themes that Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep tackled, Khan’s focus is too scattered across the project to make a proper point on modern cinema’s landscape.
You get the best of the film’s ideas during the first act. The other two do the same thing, yet with some escalated situations that are supposed to lift the film’s comedic and satirical effect but fail to do so. The main reason why this happens is that you can’t connect with the characters in any way. There’s a sense of detachment caused by Making Of’s self-referential persona and Kahn’s story structure that makes it very hard for the viewer to spend this amount of time with them. Sure, some are meant to be despised because of their arrogance. Yet, with the other characters who engage in dramatic subplots, you don’t perceive the emotions as well as you could have if it weren’t for the movie’s lack of focus. I’m sure there’s a sharper picture beneath the veneer of Making Of’s “film within a film” aesthetic.
Making Of premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2023. Read our list of films to watch at the 2023 Venice Film Festival and discover the 2023 Venice Immersive Lineup!