The director with an appetite for destruction
The pop video he made for M.I.A was banned by YouTube. Now Romain Gavras has made his first film
Monday 25 July 2011
It's part of the package that when you hire Romain Gavras, there's a good chance the end product will fall foul of the censors.
Last year, he directed the video for M.I.A's single "Born Free" – a bloody short featuring military forces rounding up and executing children simply because they had red hair. YouTube soon made the video impossible to find. Two years before that, several French TV stations boycotted the video he made for "Stress" by the French electro band Justice, featuring black and Middle Eastern hoodlums rampaging through the streets of Paris in a nod to the 2005 riots. And in February this year, the Advertising Standards Authority became his latest scourge, banning his promo for the Yves Saint Laurent fragrance Belle D'Opium after complaints that the actress in it, Melanie Thierry, looked like she was taking heroin.
"I don't deliberately try to shock my audience. Sometimes I'm going to try to provoke a reaction. But it's weird that you can see Saddam Hussein being hanged on YouTube yet my video's been banned," he says. "I don't think anything that I do is wrong or shocking. I'm way more shocked by a film like Rob Marshall's Nine, for example – bad taste like that rapes my eyes. So it's a problem of perspective. To me the M.I.A video is fun. Those shocked by it should turn the news on and see how the real US military kills real people."
In typically confrontational style, instead of using his debut feature film Our Day Will Come to move away from these controversies, Gavras has embraced them with a premise straight out of the "Born Free" video and a title borrowed from the IRA. In the film, a young lad (Oliver Barthélémy) is ostracised from his soccer team and mocked for having red hair. His psychiatrist (Vincent Cassel) turns out to be a psychopath and after some rebel-rousing advice the pair decide to fight their way to Ireland, the holy land of redheads.
The plot is enigmatic and threadbare, but, says Gavras, deals with big issues that the French authorities like to ignore: "The ginger people are just a simple shortcut to a stereotype. I wanted to talk about identity and how it is to be French and a human – not knowing who you are and having anger."
Like his Justice video, the film is inspired by the riots that habitually explode in the French banlieues. "These kids have the reasons to go nuts and create mayhem but they have no goal or idea about what they are fighting for.In the 1970s they could have said, 'We want to be Communist'. But now it's hard for these kids to relate to any side."
The difficulties faced by those on the left was a major theme in the work of his father, Costa Gavras. Like him, Gavras Jr. wants to make movies that mix politics with entertaining commercialism but is relaxed about the expectations that come with the family name. "I'm proud of my father and my heritage, so I don't carry it like a burden."
The internet has been a boon for him. Whenever his work has been banned his many fans have ensured that it's made available online. At the trendy South by Southwest festival he was feted alongside Spike Jonze as one of the great promo-makers working today. It's no surprise, then, that the big commercial companies have come calling. Earlier this year he made a $7m short for Adidas featuring David Beckham, Lionel Messi and Katy Perry. The budget was five times that of his feature film. Beckham, he says, was a consummate professional. Messi, meanwhile, was harder to crack and terribly shy. Gavras sees it as a victory that he got the world's best footballer to smile.
Gavras splits his time between Paris, LA and East London, where his young daughter lives with his ex-partner. It's a jetset lifestyle that's a long way from the dreams that he and his friend, the director of Dog Pound, Kim Chapiron had when they formed their production company Kourtrajamé in 1996. Vincent Cassel became their unofficial mentor after the youngsters approached him in the street. "We've known each other a long time," says Gavras. "I've known Kim since we were babies. He did the stills on my film. When someone has a project everyone comes and fits in, in some way."
Our Day Will Come' is out this Friday
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