Monomania : Romain Gavras, M.I.A and Provocation

mon·o·ma·ni·a
 [mon-uh-mey-nee-uh, -meyn-yuh]
-noun
 
1. (no longer in technical use) a psychosis characterised by thoughts confined to one idea or group of ideas.
2. an inordinate or obsessive zeal for or interest in a single thing, idea, subject, or the like.
 
Each week I will share with you my latest obsession. This will usually centre on little pockets of the interweb you may not come across. I'll take you down some dark alleyways, the kind you usually just briskly walk past for fear of getting mugged. Don't worry, I've got your back. Follow me...
 
THIS WEEKS MONOMANIA:
 
 
Romain Gavras, M.I.A and Provocation
 
For the last month Romain Gavras' epic 9 minute video for M.I.A's new single 'Born Free' has been steam-rolling its way across the internet leaving people offended, disgusted, angry, elated and excited. I'll talk a bit more about Gavras and the clip itself below but really the first thing you need to do is watch it. This comes with a warning though. It is not suitable for work and possibly not suitable for home if you are a particularly sensitive viewer. This is confrontational stuff so I forgive anyone who wants to skip it and just jump to the commentary below. For the rest of you I wish you good luck. Full screen it, turn your volume up and I'll see you in ten minutes. (Click the vimeo link below to go watch it in HD if you can)
 

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

 
 
Welcome back! How you feeling?
 
Pretty affecting stuff I'm sure you'll agree. Whether it's vacuous provocation or affecting social commentary is completely up for debate. Let me know in the comments below what you thought. I am genuinely curious. Personally I look at it purely from a formalist perspective. The control of technique is masterful, reminiscent of early work by Gaspar Noe. Often the way Gavras juxtaposes sound and image is fascinating and unconventional. It's less a complimentary relationship and more a push-pull dynamic. The score will often either lead or follow the visuals at ill-timed moments and here is where the brilliance of M.I.A's song takes effect. It is a classic industrial acid tune that is remixed and used sharply in the score arrangement.
 
In the beginning we are presented with the song being used as a more traditional accompaniment. The music starts with a blast as the rear of a police van flies open. We even get a little “Woo!” from a cop cut in time with the music. This is kinetic film making and it's hard to not enjoy such thrilling work. The more visceral graphic moments get inserted slowly at key moments as the film moves along but they are all placed in a carefully considered sequence where the ultimate function is merely to make the audience feel something. These kinetic thrills are what essentially betray the film's true motives and I will talk more of this in a moment. One of the most striking elements of the whole film is the way the final four minutes act as a droning wind-up with absolutely no release. It's an interesting and brave decision on Gavras' part to leave the audience in such a state and it definitely explains some of the stronger responses people have had against this film.
 
I'm most definitely not an apologist regarding what some would call art for arts sake but many detractors of this film resent being brutalised by such adept technique for no apparent reason. In fact this explains why we do have some writers reading a thematic depth into a film that I believe is stupefyingly superficial.
 
Mary Elizabeth Williams describes it thusly in her article here,
 
"Born Free" is hard to watch, and not what anyone could call entertaining. The song, by the way, isn't M.I.A.'s best. But it's also undeniably powerful, a lurid parable on the systematic ethnic cleansing that goes on all over the world.”
 
I think that is the obvious interpretation and for me it doesn't hold up too well. Gavras is too concerned with shocking us to make his point cleanly. The film seems to relish its sensationalistic tendencies which sit at odds with any serious point it is trying to make. It's a classic case of you can't have your cake and eat it too. Douglas Haddow writes here in the Guardian,
 
“Equal parts Punishment Park and South Park, with references to the IRA, the PLA and a curly haired young boy in place of Nguyen Ngoc Loan, Born Free serves up a dog's breakfast of subaltern subtext. It makes a point of pointing out the obvious – that genocide exists, violent oppression remains commonplace and the United States is still leading the world through military force.”
 
We do need to mention the connection that Haddow refers to above. Gavras' film is a direct homage/reference to a psuedo-documentary from 1971 called Punishment Park. This film dramatises a scenario where the government declares a state of emergency and violently rounds up all those who cause dissent, primarily counter-culture hippies. They are bused out to the desert and hunted for sport in scenes that shot for shot resemble what Gavras recreates in his film. It is important to note this because Punishment Park was ostensibly an important and powerful film not only in its time but in the history of film. Recreating it with 'gingers' is a strange postmodern move. Just another of the many empty referrents contained in the film.
 
I find this faux-depth really interesting to be honest. To me the film is solely concerned with its affectual function. It wants to be controversial, it is a promotional tool that wants to be memorable. Judged by that criteria I see it as infinitely successful. On a cinematic level it is brilliant. As a 9 minute film I am happy with it being just that. I would probably judge it differently if it was a 2 hour feature film but that isn't going to happen. Is it?
 

notre jour viendra - feature film trailer from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

A few days ago the above trailer popped up. Notre Jour Viendra will be Romain Gavras' feature film debut and it hits cinemas in France around September. It translates to “Our Day Will Come” but English posters have surfaced with the title, Redheads. Is this whole thing just a weird viral trailer for Gavras' new film? From the looks of it the film covers the same issues as the clip. We'll find out later in the year but we do have something interesting to look forward to now don't we.

 

Comments

needs 10% more shots of Arabs smoking drugs

Fark me... that was heavy. The stuff nightmares are made of. Great web site btw...

monomania (no longer in technical use) ... mucho respeto.

Showing violence to educate against violence is flawed in my opinion. Just like scratching an itch makes other itches appear all over your body.

I love redheads!

hehehehe...

LOL. Seriously I found that mostly boring, predictable, not scary, pretentious and even funny (southparkian) in some parts. Should I mention how much I hate MIA's voice? Fail.

I really dug the film clip, and respected it being put out.

Someone made the point that if they had have chosen any particular culture like gays, blacks, and to a lesser extenet even something like goths or hippies, there would be too much personal backlash.

I agree with this, I wouldn't really consider redheads a sensitive culture. For me though using them was really powerful as it reflected how shallow and outrageous cultural oppression is.

I actually would have liked if the filmclip ended on an even stronger note, with the most brutal scene at the end.... I felt the explosion cheesed things up a bit and wasn't necesarry. Keep it brutal and honest I think.

But yep I dig it and it's message, even if part of it's intentions was to mass market MIA, her song and possibly this movie, which ironically I definatly would check out now.

actually there has been a bit of news lately about violence against redheads. in both LA and london there have been attacks on "gingers" so to speak. there even was a controversial group on facebook called 'kick a redhead day'. its reasonably topical. i do agree with you mick but i do feel the film sensationalizes violence a bit too much to actually make a statement against it...