‘Fiasco’ 2024 Review: Netflix Mockumentary About Filmmaking Is An Amusing Whodunnit


As a kid, it was difficult to find the line between real and fictional, especially when it came to mockumentaries. For the longest time, I believed that The Blair Witch Project, [Rec], and Paranormal Activity were documentary projects that had been released to inform the world about ghosts and zombies. By the time The Office came out, it had become pretty apparent that the medium of cinema can be used to manipulate the viewer into thinking that what they are watching is, in fact, an unscripted documentary filmed by a real camera crew, even though that’s not the case. Although we still get good mockumentaries now and then, like Frogman, Late Night with the Devil, and Abbott Elementary, I think the subgenre hit its peak during the mid-2010s. Fiasco has made a valiant effort to resurrect it. But is the result a success? Well, let’s find out.

Igor Gotesman and Pierre Niney’s Fiasco tells the story of Raphael Valande, a filmmaker who has set out to make a movie about his grandmother while drawing parallels with the journey of humankind. It’s being co-produced by Nora and her ex-husband, Jean-Marc. He has cast his crush, Ingrid, as the female lead and one of the biggest stars in French cinema, Robin, as the male lead. He has access to some of the most highly detailed sets. He has a dedicated supporting cast and crew. But the faultlines start to emerge as it becomes apparent that Raphael isn’t a very assertive person. That’s why everyone walks all over him. Jean-Marc notices this, and he puts Raphael on the spot by making him address this issue in front of his whole team. Raphael’s speech goes off the rails, and an unknown individual dangles the footage of that rant over Raphael’s head to blackmail him. The nervous director loses the plot as he tries to find the extortionist while trying to finish his film in time.

Despite its frivolous nature, Fiasco provides a surprisingly in-depth look at the trials and tribulations that a film production faces. Those who watch a lot of behind-the-scenes videos and interviews will probably be aware of what it takes to get a movie or show made. But the general audience usually doesn’t put so much thought into it. If a movie is good, they talk about its merits. If a movie is bad, they move on to the next one. However, even if a movie is bad, there’s a lot of effort that goes into it, and if everyone knew about that, maybe they would treat it less harshly. And that is the overarching theme of the Netflix miniseries. Of course, Gotesman and Niney want you to laugh at the ridiculous twists and turns that the narrative takes, but they also want to educate you. Without spoiling anything, the manufactured nature of said twists and turns is a commentary on the manipulation of the circumstances to create a spicy story, even though it comes at the cost of the mental sanity of a person (or several people). The subject matter itself seems like a criticism of the current boom in historical biopics, where the past is seen as a flawless source of inspiration. 

While all that is undoubtedly good, the issue that Fiasco runs into is that it fails to use its gimmick to actually rectify the issues that it’s critiquing. For example, The Office featured racism, homophobia, and sexism. But that doesn’t mean that the female actors or the actors coming from various minorities were underwritten or forgettable. Fiasco talks about misogyny, antisemitism, racism, and more. However, since it’s so hyper-focused on the story of Raphael, everything else sort of blends into the background. The limited series has pacing issues. It’s occasionally hilarious. I think it is at its funniest when the cast and crew get explosive diarrhea. I was legitimately in tears because I was laughing so much. The attention to detail is worthy of all the applause in the world. All the sets within the sets are genuinely well-made. The cinematography and editing are seamless and, hence, immersive. I just think that there should’ve been a balance between the whodunnit aspect and the meta-commentary on film production. Sadly, much like Raphael’s life, the search for a villain overshadowed its urge to tell a meaningful story.

The cast of Fiasco is fantastic. It’s hard to ignore the shades of Michael Scott in Pierre Niney’s take on Raphael. He manages to infuriate you, make you sad about Raphael’s predicament, and then tickles your funny bone. Geraldine Nakache and Pascal Demolon are brilliant. The way they portray the unwavering sense of support their characters have towards Raphael is sort of heartwarming. Francois Civil is probably the best of the lot. He stays on the sidelines during the first half of the miniseries. But he hijacks the limelight in the second half and absolutely knocks it out of the park. Juliette Gasquet is equally great, in my opinion. Her deer-in-the-headlights act is simply hilarious. Leslie Medina is amazing. She perfectly essays the insecurities and ignorance that an actor of Ingrid’s stature suffers from. Vincent Cassel’s cameo is one for the history books. The man is a chameleon. Louise Coldefy and Djimo, as the olfactory couple of the miniseries, got quite a few laughs out of me. The legendary Marie-Christine Barrault is outstanding. There are a lot of actors in the miniseries, and it’s difficult to list them all, but each one of them deserves to be applauded for their fine work.

Despite Fiasco’s shortcomings, I think it’s worth a watch for the performances and the fact that it gives such a thorough look into the art of filmmaking. It does meander quite a lot when it tries really hard to be a whodunnit. But when it shows that there’s no limit to how many things can go wrong while making a movie or a show, it’s terrific. Will it make the mockumentary subgenre great again? I highly doubt it, and that’s not because of the quality of the miniseries but because of the Netflix model. You see, The Office and Parks & Rec. had multiple seasons to create a trend and perfect their storytelling. They didn’t need to put all their eggs in one basket. And as its showrunners polished their craft, they inspired others. Since Fiasco is a limited series and available for binge-viewing, its longevity is probably going to be limited to the week of its release. Creators and viewers deserve better than that. So, my major takeaway from this particular viewing experience is that we need to go back to the old model if we want quality comedy shows.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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