Monday, 7 March 2011

Désenchantée and other videos

I've mentioned previously liking Europop, and you may have spotted in the sidebar Mylène Farmer's Désenchantée (Disenchanted): despite this being a chart-topping hit in France, neither the song nor the singer - who has been nicknamed "the French Madonna" - are much known in the UK.

French is not a strong point with me, but the Wikipedia article explains that the lyrics were inspired by the 1934 book On the Heights of Despair, a powerful expression of existential hopelessness by the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran. This evidently struck a chord in France in 1991, at a time of student unrest and the Gulf War. What I can say, though, is that the video is brilliant and chilling: what's musically a bright and upbeat anthem set against a powerfully-filmed and bleak dramatisation of the theme of disenchantment. It's a commentary on messianism: a charismatic woman incites rebellion at some kind of boys' gulag (with allusions to Oliver Twist at the workhouse) and triumphantly, like La Liberté guidant le peuple, leads the inmates out to ... well, watch.

Désenchantée is among a number of Mylène Farmer videos filmed by composer and director Laurent Boutonnat with large budgets and cinematic-quality technique. Often inspired by literature and generally tackling difficult themes - for instance, existential angst, sexuality and subversive views of religion - they stand out as examples of pop video as a non-trivial artform.  I wish I knew French better to appreciate the lyrics.

The video for Je te rends ton amour (I Give Back Your Love) is a powerful, and for many shocking, mix of religious, horror and sexual imagery. That for Libertine has a lush and decadent visual flavour based on Kubrick's Barry Lyndon and the novels of de Sade; and its long continuation Pourvu qu'elles soient douces (Let's hope they are soft) interweaves the song into an extremely dark but beautifully-filmed historical drama of lust and betrayal, in which Farmer's female libertine character fights to the death with her rival against the backdrop of a massacre of an English army company in the Seven Years' War (these three videos are NSFW, but you can find them at YouTube).

L'Âme-stram-gram (video) takes its visual style from Chinese mythological / Wuxia films (A Chinese Ghost Story and, I thought, Zu Warriors). The lyrics are about psychoanalysis, and interspersed with erotic punning; the title alone is pretty hard to translate. The moderator at  MF International  has translated, and explains: "Ams tram gram" is essentially meaningless, the start of the French equivalent of "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe", but Farmer has spliced extra meaning into it by converting the first syllable to "L'Âme" = "The Soul".

That for Tristana (video) is a retelling, in a style reminiscent of early Russian cinema, of the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs set against the background of the Russian Revolution.  And Sans contrefaçon (Without forgery - video) tells a sad and unsettling story with, according to Wikipedia, multiple inspirations - The Adventures of Pinocchio, the Dargaud Media children's animation Peter Swift et Le Petit Cirque (Peter Swift and The Little Circus), and Apollinaire's poem Les Saltimbanques (The Acrobats) - of a ventriloquist who finds his dummy becomes a real woman ... but only when away from him.

- Ray

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