Tag Archives: French

Sexuality: The Music Videos of Sébastien Tellier

By contributor @eltname

Not that I like to give credence to the claim I’m bad at sticking to deadlines, but I am.

When I heard that Permanent Plastic Helmet was planning to delve into the world of the music video, I thought – “Ooh, I should write something for that. I love music videos. They’re my best.”

And many weeks of wasted opportunities later, this is it.

But of course, they weren’t wasted opportunities at all. Because for the past month or two I’ve just been watching Sébastien Tellier videos over and over like a Hot Chip metaphor.

Here are my favourites:

5. ‘Look’ (dir. Mrzyk & Moriceau)

To understand Sébastien Tellier’s music videos you need to understand that “Sébastien Tellier” is the literal French translation for ‘erotica’, He oozes sexuality – a handy trait and one that presumably influenced the naming of his 2008 album. For the video for ‘Look’, French directors Mrzyk & Moriceau don’t mess about. If you’re not interested in three minutes of an animated close up of a girl’s derrière then this probably isn’t the video for you – especially when it starts pumping out diamonds. However, if you can stomach that, then look closer as the drawings evolve as she walks ever onwards, revealing not just what lies under her clothes, but (in a moment of Antonio Banderas inspired madness) what lies underneath her skin. Sexy, elegant, simple – it just works.

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4. ‘Divine’ (dir. Ace Norton)

2008 was, to quote Didley Squat, A Good Year. I made the leap to London, I worked on music videos for Guillemots, Metronomy and South Central. And Sébastien Tellier represented France at the Eurovision song contest. Also taken from Sexuality, ‘Divine’ is very much a song about all things carnal. The Daft Punk-produced single (and album for that matter) is aurally charming but the package is a beacon for just how important music videos really are. It is the comically hirsute performances from a succession of cut-shot ersatz SebTels that makes this song whole. Hearing it on the radio just doesn’t have the same impact. For chaste Eurovision spectators who had probably never heard of the Frenchman before, Norton makes Tellier a caricature of himself and provides us with the overly beardy I’m Still Here image we all remember. This is probably Sébastien Tellier’s most important video.

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3. ‘L’amour le violence’ (dir. Roman Coppola)

Interestingly this video received quite a lot of stick in industry circles. In it, Roman Coppola shoots SebTel in a Parisian apartment. That’s pretty much it. There’s soft lighting and softer focus, some J.J. Abrams lens flares, some unwieldy reverse zooms, and the odd quivering hand-held close-up of Tellier singing. Coppola was accused of effectively copping out and cashing in on his famous family name. But such an unassuming yet powerful song deserves this kind of minimal, head-on treatment. It’s not quite as literal as Coppola’s effort for Phoenix (‘Funky Squaredance‘ – the first music video ever chosen to be a permanent exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Arts) but Tellier’s repetition of the lines “Tell me what you think” begs a certain intimacy that would be lost in any other video.

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2. ‘Kilometer’ (dir. Jonas and Francois)

I’m not really into pornography. But if I was, I suspect I’d be into really niche stuff. Like watching stunning French girls in tiny excuses for underwear jiggling around SebTel’s house as they try to eat animatronic hot dogs. Think it doesn’t exist? You don’t know enough Tellier. If this was any other artist, we might conclude that the setting for ‘Kilometer’ was a party where our star had cut loose for the weekend. But because it’s Sébastien Tellier, it seems a given that this is less ‘one-off’ and more ‘pretty average Tuesday morning’. Jonas & François replicate the gratuitous ‘ass-shot’ we saw in ‘Look’ here, but in live action. They also appreciate, and indulge in, the sense of the absurd that Tellier commands so well on screen. The shot of him holding court over his harem who applaud as he balances a spoon on his nose sums the video up perfectly.

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1. ‘Cochon ville’ (dir. Alex Courtes)

Where to begin? His first new material since 2008, My God Is Blue is a slow burner as albums go. But again, underlying the important role that music videos play, the promo for its first single is vital in catching the attention of its audience. And, like the cultish devotees that appear in this very not-safe-for-work video, once you’re hooked, there’s no escape. Alex Courtès delivers debauchery on a scale previously unimaginable in most mediums, much less the music video. It makes Project X look like something on Newsround. David Knight for PromoNews beautifully describes his turn here as “the guitar-wielding Rasputin of Sex”. It’s a fitting allusion for his performance as a crazy-eyed cult leader, surrounded by writhing naked, fisting, fingering, glitter-cocked, foot-jobbed, firework-stuffed PYTs. The face at 2’17” was pretty much mine for all three minutes of what I would claim is the greatest video of our generation. Honestly – who keeps a blue & gold macaw there? Sébastien Tellier, that’s who.

The Players (Les infidèles) | review

Before Jean Dujardin came to worldwide attention by winning the Oscar for best actor in The Artist, he was already a star in his native country. He came to prominence as one half of ‘Un Gars, une Fille‘, a comedy TV sketch show revolving around a competitive-to-the-point-of-cruel couple. Dujardin has had success with dramatic roles since but The Players sees Dujardin return to this archetype as modern France’s everyman in love (so to speak). UK distributor Momentum is banking on that Oscars success to draw British audiences to what is a very French affair.

The Players is a series of scenarios and sketches riffing on the act of infidelity. Or more precisely, men cheating on their wives and trying not to get caught. Dujardin teams up with the aptly surnamed Gilles Lellouche (they were both in last year’s Little White Lies) as partners in philandering.

The separate scenarios plough through the archetypes of Parisian male adulterers: a pair of hard partying buddies, out until 5am every morning fucking any willing pretty woman and covering each other’s backs in the face of spousal inquisition; the lusty, but stymied businessman pathetically jealous of his colleague’s seemingly effortless ability to sleep with every female employee at the company; the mid-life crisis with a girlfriend’s half his age.

It’s an unfamiliar cinematic structure, a TV format, with a bizarre car-crash of characters.  One might ponder on how successfully this Gallic trope might translate, but the relentless absurdity of it is universally funny. The little minute long sketches in particular are crude and tasteless, but equally ludicrous and farcical: an unfathomable fusing of bodies during sex; S&M and an exposing garage door; a dog and a used condom, to give but a flavour of their components. There’s a particularly funny sketch bringing together many of the characters that appear (Dujardin & Lellouche are joined by other ‘infidèles’ including Guillaume Canet, married to Marion Cotillard) in an Adulterers Anonymous group run by a beautiful therapist.

One scenario sees Lellouche’s character openly discussing his infidelity at the dinner table whilst his wife potters in the background, out of earshot. On the way home, the married dinner guest-couple (Dujardin and Alexandra Lamy, the other half in ‘Un Gars, Une Fille’, and the woman Dujardin married after divorcing his first wife with whom he has two children), besides exclaiming their friend’s impertinent flagrance, inevitably end up discussing their own fidelity. Not a date movie, then.

Or perhaps it is. It doesn’t bother with the aftermath of infidelity. There’s the men for whom extra-marital sex has become the ‘normal status’; the man who wants to cheat but can’t (not for want of trying) and sees this as fidelity; and the sad man who can’t hack the complexities of his 19 year old girlfriend’s social life. Women are passing sexual objects or frustrated bystanders. It’s all a bit laissez-faire with a comic-moral line that men are stupid and ridiculous and adultery is their natural state. It’s innate.

The finale sees our pair of partying buddies from the first sketch heading to Las Vagas to give it ‘everything’ and the whole thing descends into bacchanalian lunacy of epic proportions. For heterosexual Parisian relationships at least, c’est la vie.

The Players (Les infidèles) is in cinemas now, courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

Pillow Talk: Roger Vadim’s Love on a Pillow

There has just been a realignment of the cinematic celestial orbs. You remember James Robertson Justice, the rotund, bearded character actor from a myriad British comedies of the 50s and 60s? The one that used to bellow irritably at Dirk Bogarde in various Doctor films? Truly Scrumptious’ Dad in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Yep, that’s the one. Well, I have just watched a film in which James Robertson Justice utters the line “Leave her the fuck alone”! Admittedly it was a subtitle, and I have my doubts that the French words on the soundtrack were not actually spoken by JRJ, but it still came as a bit of a shock to hear such profanity from the lips of the Establishment. It’s OK. I’m fine now.

What was the film? Well, those nice people at Studio Canal have dug deep into their vaults again to prise yet another vintage flick from the fingers of obscurity. This time, it’s Love on a Pillow (Le Repos du Guerrier), a curio from 1962 written and directed by Roger Vadim. Vadim’s first film, And God Created Woman, had made a star out of his wife Brigitte Bardot, but had precipitated their divorce. This film was their third and final collaboration, made between Vadim fathering a child with Catherine Deneuve and getting married to Jane Fonda. I think we can safely assume that whatever “it” is, Roger Vadim had it.

Love on a Pillow begins with Genevieve (Bardot in prissy, buttoned-up guise) discovering an attempted suicide when she accidentally enters the wrong room in her hotel. Thwarted in his effort to end it all, Renaud (Robert Hossein) decides that maybe being saved by Brigitte Bardot is not such a horrendous fate and declares her to be the owner of his soul. Genevieve quickly recognises in this man an escape from the constrictive life she leads with her fiancé and bourgeoise mother, and embarks on a masochistic relationship.

The loosening of Genevieve’s ties to the bourgeoisie is neatly represented by the state of her hair. Beginning with a tightly bunned-up do, their first meal together has Renaud liberating a lock from its confines. Before you can say “Because you’re worth it”, Genevieve’s tresses are cascading over her shoulders and she’s warming her naked body in front of a crackling log fire. She also adopts a carefree attitude to punctuality and her housekeeping goes to pot. Her mother is naturally appalled. What she would say about the drug-fuelled partner-swapping parties is anyone’s guess.

The film is most interesting in its attempt to shoehorn comment about male-female battlelines into a Bardot vehicle. Renaud treats Genevieve disdainfully, yet each provocation only seems to deepen her desire for him. Bardot was never exactly pin-up girl for the feminist movement, and this film’s depiction of female subservience does run against the grain of the time. At one point a female character is casually but brutally slapped by her boyfriend, an action which the Bardot character thinks is justified.

Defiantly rejecting the stylistic tics of the French New Wave and the working-class preoccupations of the British New Wave, Vadim appears to have taken his inspiration from the louche lifestyle of La Dolce Vita, especially in the party scene that would have become an orgy had it been filmed just a few years later. As it is, we have a bunch of disaffected people getting stoned while listening to languid jazz, pairing off with each other and muttering phrases like “Merde, c’est chouette!” – or, as the subtitles would have it: “Holy shit, it’s awesome!”

Love on a Pillow is not awesome but it is an intriguing attempt to concoct a more mature persona for Bardot, while still emphasising her allure. The script’s stabs at profundity may veer towards pretension, but Vadim fills the film with evidence of his star’s gorgeousness, and the photography has that irresistible glossy sheen so characteristic of the 60s. Superficial pleasures certainly, but pleasures nonetheless. Although perhaps less so for Germaine Greer.

Love on a Pillow is available on DVD now. Contributor Fintan McDonagh can be followed on Twitter @fintalloneword.

Taxi Driver gets Gondry’s “swedish” treatment

It’s never been in doubt that the best thing about Be Kind Rewind, Michel Gondry’s bittersweet ode to home videos and rental stores, was the “sweded” movies. These cheap yet charming remakes of the pop film canon filtered through the memories of Jack Black and Mos Def’s characters stand today as some of the most potent demonstrations of the French filmmaker’s boundless inventiveness and adorable D.I.Y aesthetics.

To mark the recent Parisian premiere of Martin Scorsese’s latest – the family-friendly Hugo  the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director delivered this cracking Christmas treat; a lovely lo-fi version of Marty’s most iconic (and least PC) work, Taxi Driver… with coloured pencils for bullets and en français s’il vous plait. Profiter: