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Costs of excess

4 January, 2009

«Tout s’achète : l’amour, l’art, la planète Terre, vous, moi…»
Frédéric Beigbeder

At last it’s 2009, and the bad economic news continues on like a low-budget sequel with a sorely disappointed audience. The economists and pundits all seem to have morphed into fortune-tellers in the last few weeks, gazing through interest group-affiliated crystal balls to write yet another twenty paragraphs about why the new year is destined to be a terrible hell of a downturn. Or let-down. Or not… So I will join them, because in the midst of the inclement forecasting are the monotone voices of politicians turning over leaves anew with self-contradicting views over neo-liberal capitalism and its unbridled financial institutions bound by the farcical (mis)effect of regulatory bodies formed to prevent precisely the thing that has happened after all. Perhaps one of the most painful aspects of recession so far has been being made to suffer whilst listening to political rivals attempting to one-up each other, trying to gain grounds through capitalizing on the misfortune of their disillusioned electorate. Our born-again leaders and believers of equitable society have conveniently re-remembered the man on the Clapham omnibus by acquiring that prophetic aura about them to impart the wisdom that a gross amount of wealth as be-all and end-all of human existence is, in fact, gross. And though intermittently placed between pleas to spend our way through to salvage the economy as per Keynesian theory would have it at micro-level, the notion of saving money (or at least not spending as much as we did before) is looking more attractive by the day.

So pauvre-chic is back in, and after the recent magnum success of Damien Hirst and ten inflation-adjusted landmark sales for artists such as Rothko, De Kooning, Klimt and Monet since 2006, the post-binge purge has become as increasingly apparent in the art world as it is on the High Street. Through a rising movement advocating the ‘it factor’ of unpretentious frugality, an industry that relies heavily on the pockets of investors most inevitably tied to Bernard Madoff by less than six degrees of separation is finding ways to beat the squeeze. ‘Jack Boul: Then and Now’, an exhibit showcasing work by the Washington-based artist, opened to much acclaim last month at the American University Museum in Katzen Arts Center. With an extra-loving emphasis placed on the intimate simplicity of his oil paintings, many examples of his work measure no more than thirty centimetres in width — a most certainly stark contrast to Pollock’s famed seven-footers. In a similar fashion (or ought that be ‘anti-fashion’?), the sixteenth edition of ‘Small is Beautiful’ which closed show in London’s Flowers East gallery yesterday has always been well-accustomed to rebellion against the ‘bigger is better’ aesthetic, with all featured multimedia pieces constrained by the annual series’ limit of a modest yet creatively stimulating 9×7 inches.

Even the art of speech hasn’t escaped the witch-hunt, with Lake Superior State University’s 34th annual ‘List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness’ tut-tutting at 2008’s superfluousness of words such as iconic, maverick, and not in the least bit bail-out. Frugal awareness in this regard may be more difficult to implement, as it’s easy to yield to ornate verbosity as manifested by stunted attention-seeking vocabulary without noticing. But even worse is the shameless hyperbole found on the newswire (‘credit crisis’, anyone?), and more distastefully in the ironically irrelevant and non-distinctive output of account planning. And this indulgent, sometimes sinister nature of advertising is fully demonstrated in a film unbeaten in my recent top-ten roster, 99 francs by French director Jan Kounen (last month featured in CINEMA16 with Gisèle Kérozènea). In his 2007 film starring actor Jean Dujardin playing the snide, self-involved and hyper-materialistic Octave Parango, Kounen has done with 99 F what Spike Jonze, Jason Reitman and Michel Gondry have done before him in terms of laying bare some of man’s most gruesome attributes and then some. Thrilling on so many levels not least because it’s based on writer and critic Frédéric Beigbeder‘s eponymous book,  this VFX spectacle of sex, drugs and copywriting interwoven by one man’s struggle to come to grips with a twisted yet awakening moral conscience is so well-done, I’d be short-changed to find any other film (or book) as good on the topic.

As in Klapisch’s L’auberge espagnole and its successor Les pouppées russes, the French modern narrative style plays in favour of first-person plot propagation, blending a great deal of Parango’s sardonic humour with the dramatic throws in rich ($) character development alongside actors Vahina Giocante and Patrick Mille. The conveying of advertising-on-Viagra is helped quite remarkably by a soundtrack fit for cause, much like the essential Farväl Falkenberg OST. And opening with Amina’s beautiful ‘Bienvenue dans le meilleur des mondes’, the 99 F bande originale offers twenty-three finely calibrated tracks ranging from narrative excerpts from the film to a balance between Parisian techno-house (Etienne De Crécy’s ‘Funky Bloody Beetroot’ is generic, but Garnier’s ‘Crispy Bacon’ is better), a chillout alterna-indie mix (think smooth St.Germain plus slightly annoying though poignant number from CocoRosie), and an enjoyably apt dramatic score. In short, it goes without saying that after viewing the trailer below (if anyone tracks down the English-subbed version, feel free to forward the link), allow for one last additional shopping spree and start off the year with the DVD. Because if it doesn’t give you ample reason to downsize your budget thereafter, then surely not much else will.

Sarah Badr © MMIX


See also: Jan Kounen (Official)

‘A prediction that’s a safe bet’ (BBC News)

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