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Wednesday, 18 July 2012 06:58

Gavras taps into the poetics of protest

The recent protests, and especially those of the Occupy movements in numerous American and European cities, have gained a vast presence in the media and in many cases popularised radical alternatives to the current democratic system. This process brought back situationist initiatives such as the 90's "Reclaim the Streets" that were envisioned as a model for the contemporary manifestations. Along with the protesters' demands came symbols of civil disobedience, such as Guy Fawkes masks, a human microphone, tents in a cityscape, or the calls simply to "occupy everything." The last of these didn't just remain in the symbolic sphere. Patterns of communication and cooperation that were adopted in the occupied spaces effectively appealed to the public imagination and thus formed a "poetics of protest."

Tapping into the feel of these movements, Jay-Z and Kanye West released a video for their song "No Church In The Wild" last May. The video was directed by a young Greek, Romain Gavras, who is known for his violent yet elegant aesthetics, a coldly tinted imagery and daring narrative themes. This time, Gavras had a go at the spectacle of a riot scene.

The video quite clearly strikes the viewer as glamorous. When a protester lights up a Molotov cocktail in the opening sequence, it is difficult to resist an association with French New Wave cinema chic. On a fiercer note, for Salon's Natasha Lennard the video is unmistakably "riot porn," "capturing particularly dramatic riot scenes - the sort with fire, tear gas, charging police horses, careening masked crowds and, often, a hardcore backing track." "Riot porn" might also earn its name because it shows scenes of passion staged especially for the camera. Indeed, the video's striking beauty is disturbing and alarming when we realise the familiarity of the images and our consent to watching them paired with some rather decadent rap.

Jay Z & Kanye West "No church in the wild" (dir. ROMAIN-GAVRAS, available on Vimeo.)

Published in Cafe Cinema
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