99 francs (Jan Kounen, 2007)

“Brilliant, trashy, offbeat.  Exceptional.” – STUDIO.

Drafthouse Films LogoOctave Parango (Jean Dujardin) is the master of his world.  His job: copywriter at the acclaimed ad agency Ross & Witchcraft.  His motto: “Man is a product like any other.”  He has all he desires – drugs, women, luxury – but when Octave ruins a meaningful romance with a beautiful and caring co-worker, he becomes disgusted with himself, his easy-going lifestyle, and the system he helped create, causing him to rebel and sabotage his biggest advertising campaign.  Jean Dejardin (The Connection) tears down the dishonest and hypocritical world of corporate advertising in this blackly comic tale of self-destruction.  Inspired by Frédéric Beigbeder’s best-selling novel, Jan Kounen directs this comedy “bursting with ideas from start to finish!” (Le Parisien).

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Jan Kounen
  • Audio commentary with Kounen, writer Frédéric Beigbeder, and actor Jean Dujardin
  • Making-of featurette
  • Back on the Roof: Behind the Scenes of the Fall
  • Another World: Filming in the Amazon
  • Deleted scenes, with optional commentary
  • Special effects featurette
  • Jan Kounen Podcasts from the set of 99 francs
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau (director of the absurd) on Legrand advertising, an excerpt of a 2007 debate between Rousseau and Kounen
  • Deleted making-of scenes
  • Capitaine X and Vibroboy, two short films by Kounen
  • A 24 page booklet featuring concept art, production photos, and new interviews with cast and crew

Deluxe Edition – Package Includes:

  • 99 francs on Blu-ray or Standard DVD featuring over 6 hours of bonus material
  • DRM-free Digital Download of the film on 1080p, 720p, and mobile/tablet formats
  • 27″ x 40″ Movie Poster
  • Frédéric Beigbeger’s novel 99 Francs

99 Francs PosterWith the recent arrival of The Connection (Cédric Jimenez, 2014) on hard media, now seemed like a good time to propose a companion movie for Drafthouse Films’ consideration, one that features The Connection‘s star, Jean Dujardin.  We like James Huth’s Lucky Luke (2009) and Michel Hazanavicius’ OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006) and OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009), but all of these films have solid Region 1 releases already.  What really needs a quality North American edition is the blackly comic 99 francs (Jan Kounen, 2007), based on Frédéric Beigbeder’s 2000 novel about a disillusioned publicist who sabotages his career.  (In a case of life mirroring art, Beigbeder was fired from his advertising job shortly after his book’s release.  No need for sympathy though; Beigbeder has gone on to achieve literary fame in his native France.)  Dujardin hasn’t quite broken through on this side of the Atlantic following his Oscar win as the twee matinee idol from The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011).  With 99 francs, Dujardin’s Octave Parango more resembles the charming scoundrel he plays in his cameo for Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), using his good looks and Vaseline smile to obscure a craven and base character.

99 francs kicks off in medias res and in extremis, with Octave atop a skyscraper amid a late-night storm.  He laments how “everything can be bought,” that “Man is a product as others with a sales deadline,” and how “everything is temporary,” then leaps off, only to awake upon impact from what was, at least for the time being, a distressing dream.  From there, Octave walks through the detritus of the previous night’s party and into his job as the star copywriter for fashionable ad agency, Ross & Witchcraft, all while narrating in direct address like some consumerist nightmare-version of Ferris Bueller.  He introduces us to the firm’s artistic director and his creative partner, “Charlie” Dagout (Jocelyn Quivrin); his put-upon client liaison, “Jeff” Marolles (Patrick Mille), and his hard-edged boss and the firm’s creative director, Marc Maronnier (Antoine Basler); and he presents as a charismatic rogue, one who recognizes the game he plays and who enjoys the privilege he disproportionately receives because, well, only a fool wouldn’t, and Octave is too-cool-for-school to pass up a good (and easy) thing.  Still, doubt gnaws at the edges of his willfully blind world.  Octave knows the dishonesty and manipulation at the heart of his work and at the luxurious life that comes with it, and his conscience betrays him, such as when he wanders into a surreal exchange with a creepy Aryan, radioactively idealized version of the nuclear family selling chocolate bars.

Octave stumbles into a genuinely sincere love affair with Sophie (Vahina Giocante), a beautiful marketing manager who finds real depth of feeling with the copywriter, but when she reveals that she has become pregnant with Octave’s child, he reacts dreadfully and she flees to Saint Vincent depressed and in the poor company of Parango’s creative director.  As a result, Octave’s existential crisis, which was once merely a sense of indecency that he could take pride in merely being aware of, becomes a downward spiral.  He produces uninspiring work, hooks up with a (rather generous and kind) prostitute named Tamara (Elisa Tovati), and is forced to tolerate the small-minded, racist, and egotistical head of the Madone yogurt company, all while inuring himself with steady stream of sex, blow, and self-loathing.  After getting Tamara cast as the lead in Madone’s stereotypical TV commercial (you’ve probably already seen it: thin-lady-slurps-yogurt-erotically), Octave, Tamara, and Charlie break from their Miami set for a bender of pills and carnage almost too horrible to describe, but made all the worse for its trippy cartoon representation.

The trio eventually wake having apparently escaped death and legal authorities and they return to Ross & Witchcraft where they are feted as the firm’s new creative directors.  Reality comes crashing into the celebration when police arrive looking to arrest Octave and Charlie (presumably for their deadly joyride in Florida), and Octave eventually finds himself at the film’s beginning, falling from the rooftop in a doomed effort to escape the police and his soul-destroying existence, crashing to his death.  99 francs unexpectedly offers a final flight of Haneke-like self-consciousness,interrupting its closing credits with a test screening alternate ending.  There, Octave is re-written as a darling anti-hero, secretly filming an anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist Madone commercial and getting it to air with the assistance of a guerrilla advertising terrorist cell, then escaping to the Amazon for a back-to-basics, heteronormative reconciliation with Sophie.

Of course, this second ending is no more tenable than Octave’s inauthentic life, and 99 francs concludes acknowledging the same, revealing itself to be the fantasy of a man falling to his death, which is nothing more than a fiction sold for our amusement.  A final statement on cinema’s implicit participation in 99 francs‘ capitalist hell occurs following the final credits, where Louis Lumière’s Laveuses (1896) demonstrates cinema’s intrinsic connection to commerce by its obvious product placement for the Sunlight soap company.  Kounen’s film would be a rather despairing affair were its star not so charismatic and its indulgences so excessive.  In a sense, the comparison to the Austrian filmmaker is not entirely misplaced, as 99 francs plays something like Michael Haneke made for MTV, trading clinical austerity for superficial flash but maintaining the same soul-crushing despondency.  Even Octave’s fantasy sequence contains compromises, as his trangressive anti-advertisement, intended as an unwelcome blow against the profit-motive and small-minded ad campaigns, is hailed by some onlookers as brilliant, read as an intended commentary by Madone that boldly speaks against the image that it and its competitors promote, backhandedly confirming the same ideal.  Such is the world we live in now, where rebellion is commoditized faster than rebels can rebel.  As such, 99 francs would like to have its cake and eat it too, to entertain while criticizing.  It’s fundamentally an untenable balance that compromises the film’s ultimate message, but makes it no less of an entertaining and stimulating work.

Brain Packaging99 francs seems to fit the profile for a Drafthouse Films title – dark, cynical, transgressive, unapologetic.  All that really stands in it way is its age, being far more recent than typical Drafthouse rep picks, but still nearly a decade old (and all the odder for its near-past setting of 2001 – retroactive post-millennial tension?).  We’d like to see Drafthouse Films add to its hard media collection without requiring a theatrical run in advance.  It would allow interesting films like 99 francs find North American hard media and flesh out the label, creating a steadier stream of releases.  There are a fair number of poster treatments for 99 francs but we’re most fond of this Blu-ray cover of a brain packaged for your grocery’s meat counter and sold cheap.

Credits:  The cover summary is roughly adapted from the French Blu-ray of 99 francs and most of the special features are likewise taken from that disc.  We’ve added Jan Kounen’s podcasts, which include l’Ami d’Octave, Helium, Imitations, Imitations Ultimate, Loops, Photos, Podcasts, Projection à l’équipe, and Revival Vibro.  For good measure, we’ve also included a pair of shorts by Kounen dating back to 1994.  We’ve also added to the more robust Drafthouse package (something the label no longer seems to offer) Beigbeger’s novel, however the English language translation of his book relocated the story to London (£9.99) and reviews for the altered novel were decidedly mixed.  Given the passage of time since its first release, 99 francs the novel may now be ready for a more faithful translation.

This has been a terrible a few days around the world.  In a small way, I’m glad to have already been writing on a French film as Paris holds a special place in my heart and probably in the hearts of all cinephiles.  Paris still belongs to all of us.  So does Beirut, Baghdad, and Garissa.

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