What movie was that...?

17 September 2012

Stress (a Justice music video)

directed by Romain Gavras

Romain Gavras the artist is a lot of things. An aggressive provocateur. An instigator. A visionary. Check his videography and you’ll find hardcore examples of what comprises a phenomenal music video (M.I.A.’s Bad Girls video), what it takes to elevate a commercial into an art form (both his Boxing and All In Adidas commercials), and just how visceral film can be. Gavras seeks to evoke gut reactions with his filmic art, adding charged imagery to an idea like a gas to a fire. Perhaps his most controversial work, a video for Justice’s Stress, follows a group of youths from the banlieu of Paris as they cut a swath of terror, violence and destruction across a black and white cityscape. Those of you who are familiar with the remarkable Mathieu Kassovitz film La Haine will recognize much in terms of style and tone, but while Kassovitz sought to humanize the culture of impoverished, disenfranchised French youth on the outskirts of society (quite literally), Gavras seems to want to wield them like a weapon. Stress opens on a group of French kids, all rocking jackets carrying the trademark Justice Cruciform, as they converge ominously to form a kind of reckless cyclone of savagery and rage. They break things, accost strangers, commit myriad acts of vandalism and destruction of property (public and private), and all with a volatile and menacing sense of hatred toward a world that has marginalized them. The video’s climax finds the kids setting a stolen car on fire, then stomping the cameraman and leaving the scene. After a prolonged blackout, scrambled voices (of, presumably, the kids) shout “Does filming this get you off, you S.O.B.?”
To contextualize this video for those of you who have no idea what a banlieu is (aka Americans), imagine a bunch of pissed of kids from Detroit’s east side stomping through the suburbs like a swarm of insects, exacting a kind of cosmic revenge on the very culture that has put a proverbial boot on their collective throats. In Stress, the Justice jackets march through Paris with what seems to be a very specific purpose, which is to wreak havoc, and the fact that the symbol of their gang is a cross that represents both the music group (named Justice, hint) as well as a brutal tool of public execution (Jesus, hello?) is a juicy bit of imagery in itself, and I will leave that to you, good reader, to mull over. The controversy surrounding Stress upon its release was that it seemed to appear sans context (this was in the earlier days of YouTube), and thus had no point of view. The flaw in that line of thinking is the assumption that one has to buy into a context (literally or figuratively) in order to glean meaning from a work of art. Is it only art if it’s in a museum with a little plastic plaque next to it? Is it only a great film if it gets the Criterion treatment? Does it have to sound pleasing to be music? If your answer to these questions is a firm “hell no”,  then Stress is a powerful indictment of a social structure that has pushed whole groups so far to the edge that the only way to be seen is to brandish a big stick. Art is often challenging, sometimes uncomfortable, and with Stress, Gavras has crafted a rough and audacious conjecture to answer the old saying that if you ignore it, it will go away. 
The video for Stress, in case you are interested...

And his Adidas commercial, All In...

If those didn't kick you in the ass, I don't know what would.

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