Vicious. Visceral. Controversial. These aren’t negatives in Romain Gavras world. They are key elements, necessities to be able to breathe life in his work. The content he portrays in his works is violent and upsetting at times, but creates an interesting array of images that say more about our global society in a few short minutes than some full length films.
The military and overt power seem to be the most prevalent themes in Gavras’ work. This video for The Last of the Shadow Puppets’ “The Age of the Understatement” has these themes in full effect as Russian tanks tread through snowy tundra while scenes of a priest, a frightened figure skater, Russian soldiers, a strange theater, and the band interlock with one another.
I’m a big fan of Justice and the video for “Stress” is the first of Gavras’ that I saw. the song is frantic and unnerving, like siren going off warning the viewer of danger. Gavras take this and creates a gang of nihilistic youths who terrorize the outskirts of Paris and its inhabitants. They strut through street and they kick down side view mirrors and set fire to the world. It ugly and grimy, these kids with their leather jackets carrying Justice’s cross logo are overwhelmingly crass and serve as an example of the extremes that some areas can foster.
“Born Free” seems to have garnered Gavras’ the most attention to his career. The music video is more of a short film about hatred, which is represented in a particularly stunning way. At first the video seems to be a manhunt for a single man performed by fascist soldiers wearing American tactical gear. It is then revealed to be culling, using redheads as the victims of brutal violence and bigotry. The use of redheads in the role lends itself to absurdity, with its intentions extending to the horrible acts of the soldiers. The video reaches beyond the reach of the songs length lasting an uncomfortable nine minutes, all the while M.I.A.’s voice hangs in the background insisting, demanding, that we’re born free.
Gavras’ film, Notre Jour Viendra, continues the concepts of racism and violence presented in the Born Free video. The film is currently difficult to find in the U.S., but I hope to get my hands on it soon.
At first glance, the second Gavras/M.I.A video looks like excess for excess sake. However, the message it is trying to send is anything but. “Bad Girls” shows Arabian women dressed in traditional garb refusing to conform to gender and societal norms. The video stands tall and supports women’s rights in a near outlandish way, strong pushing the demand for better treatment. This statement is made loud and abundantly clear, never cowering away from it.
“No Church in the Wild” is rebellious song that confronts the sanctity and prestige of those in power save for Kanye West’s overly superficial and pompous section (I get it, you like sex). Jay-Z’s verses squarely attacks religion and tradition, Frank Ocean cranks out the fantastic chorus, and The Dream auto-tunes a bridge that connects West’s showy lyrics to the rest of the song. Gavras’ video perfectly captures an uprising against an oppressive government and unlike the video for “Born Free”, this one parades a sense of victory at the end. Despite this, Gavras juxtaposes a majestic elephant rising against the backdrop of the city with its soldiers still standing. It’s a harrowing image that lets us know, this win isn’t forever.
You can check out some more of Romain Gavras’ videos here.