Discovering Stromae and Learning Languages

Buzzfeed featured this brilliantly crafted commentary on social media from Stromae, “Carmen.”

My significant other found the video on Facebook and thinking I would like the song, shared it with me. I enjoyed not only the music, but the full package of artwork and theme. Seeing it was written and directed by French animator and comic writer Sylvain Chomet (known largely for animated films: The Illusionist and The Triplets of Belleville) was a bonus, and won more points with me. “Carmen” piqued both our interests in Stromae, but I became distracted and didn’t look further. My SO did and before I knew it, linked me to another song this time, “Tous Les Mêmes.” This video served as the catalyst for me diving into his work as well as background. I assumed he was French, from both of these songs, but learned Stromae (a stage name) is instead Belgian and a lovely blend of Flemish and Rwandan that latter proving to be significant in how he approaches his music. I soon realized I didn’t know much about Belgium or how strong of a French presence it has. For whatever reasons, when I thought of the country, I thought German or Dutch and almost never French.
After my latest reading endeavor, this felt a little less happy coincidence and more dancing in the realm of uncanny, as if both the reading and my listening to his music were fate.

While “Carmen” is fantastic, my favorite song of Stromae’s is actually this one, “Papaoutai”

As it turns out, we both lost our fathers at young ages, anything touching on the relationship of father and child usually speaks to me. The video is done in such an illustrative fashion that those without French fluency, or any French understanding can still get an idea of what the song is about. I love the combination and all the videos I’ve watched so far use different styles of short film in the telling of stories. It’s refreshing to see someone in a more popular genres of music being an artist and not just an entertainer which has become so common in the United States. A few articles mentioned that scientists have gone into researching the decline of Pop Music over the years and it’s not just in our imaginations.  The genre has actually been dumbing down. I assume physical record sells have also declined resulting in a stronger push for record companies to make that money. Leaving us with commercialism and repetition over talent and artistry. Fortunately, not everyone interested in making music is behind the cheapening of it and continue to treat it as a craft.

I haven’t analyzed Stromae’s lyrical content, yet. But even if he didn’t have the most in depth lyrics, he’s singing in French (and quite possibly bits of other languages). By him doing this, English speaking listeners such as myself, or others who don’t know French can pick up pieces subconsciously. Many songs have catchy hooks, that are clear and repeated and it presents the language in a more interesting way. Since French happens to be one of the languages I’m learning, I plan to make a conscious effort of looking up his lyrics while listening to the songs and focusing on natural pronunciations. If I want to be really ambitious, I can work on translating them into English myself instead of shortcuts. This article highlights eight tips for learning language through songs and music. Even though it specifies English, most of the tips make sense and should be applicable to learning others.

So, while social media poses threats of doom and gloom if we let ourselves get too absorbed, it still has productive uses. Like introducing me to an array of artists I might not have discovered any time soon. And by being open to this discovery, much like reading, I can get sucked into new worlds giving me the opportunity to learn about myself and others along the way.


Excited About Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent?

I might be. I was in the middle of a conversation that led to me needing to do a quick search on When the page loaded, I saw this…

Screen capture

Screen capture

My jaw dropped and a little squeal came out. I recognized Louis Garrel, and I’m not ashamed to admit I turn into a teenybopper at the sight of him. He’s my French heartthrob, and one of the only actors capable of evoking that kind of response. Probably because I don’t have the chance to grow tired of him since he stays in French independent film roles almost exclusively.
Anywho, it was a good play on IMDb’s part to feature him in the trailer still and as the movie’s promotional photo on its profile page, since people who enjoy his work will take notice, as I did. What delighted me most was discovering he’s not even playing Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel, who’s probably a heartthrob to others, is), Garrel’s playing Jacques de Bascher. However, I don’t know much about Laurent’s back story or the significance of Bascher within it, so it could just make practical sense. All I know is that beforehand, I wouldn’t have noticed the film until I did an updated search on Garrel’s acting credits. I’m also not that familiar with Bonello’s work, but am certainly intrigued.
The other pleasant surprise was that Léa Seydoux will also be in the film via the role of Loulou de la Falaise. My first introduction to her came in the form of Christophe Honoré’s La Belle Personne*, a film I’ve seen about three times now. I am hoping for some interactions between the two because their onscreen chemistry makes me giddy.

Not much Garrel airtime in it, but the trailer was fun to watch. I have no idea if there is to be a wide North American release, but hoping on it considering all the accolades and praise the film’s received so far, and there are still a few American film festivals it will be showcased. In the meantime, I’ll be conducting some more research and keep my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to see the film much sooner than later.

*For a review written as elegantly as the film itself and spoiler free, I encourage you to click the link.

Seventh Moon

Decided to watch Seventh Moon because it was short and ondemand via IFC.
Didn’t know anything about it aside from the cable synopsis so, I had modest expectations. After making it half way through…I’d say the rating on IMDb is about right. Maybe even a teensy bit generous.

Charlie Chaplin and Monsieur Verdoux

Whenever I stumble upon a Turner Classic Movies‘ Spotlight of Charles Chaplin, I’m compelled to tune in. The Tramp charmed his way into my brain at a prepubescent age, and secured a VIP seat in my heart ever since.

I grew up on TCM, with special evenings set aside to enjoy the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and others. Chaplin, however, was a result of my own piqued interest. His basic (but clownish) style of dress and general kindness while finding himself in some of the most ridiculous of situations was captivating. The Silent Film era also captivated me. Not only because it gave insight to the history of film making, but it showed a side of acting mainstream movies no longer possess. In a way, it was animated theater.

For the month of August, TCM has been paying tribute to a different star each day, including Chaplin. During his slot, I skimmed through the lineup and one title caught my eye. Monsieur Verdoux. I kept my fingers crossed for a French film with subtitles, but didn’t mind English. When I read the synopsis, I was sold. A black comedy starring Chaplin as a man who married and murdered. Content far from anything else I had seen from him by that point. I was surprised that, while released later than notable films The Circus, Modern Times, or The Great Dictator, I hadn’t heard much about it. During the introduction via host Ben Mankiewicz, I learned a deal of controversy and criticism surrounded the film.

Monsieur Verdoux was viewed by some as making too light of serial killing or not having enough comedy. Seems hardly anyone found the motion picture pleasing. I wasn’t deterred. As someone having seen the aforementioned works, I believed in his abilities. The beginning was a slow start for me, admittedly I had some laptop distractions, but the humor and story telling I expected was still there. Also, much like his other works, a serious tone presented itself.

Questions of morality often find themselves in film. In Verdoux, I was reminded of Lawrence Kohlberg’s moral dilemma. A man doing what he believes he must for the sake of his family, and whether or not it justified. Chaplin provides commentary on more than if this murderer’s deeds were wrong, but looks to the actions of businesses and governments and questions why society accepts one individual’s crimes as more heinous than those with the power (and often choose) to do far worse. It wasn’t revealed in the “epic” speech style of The Great Dictator, but still orated in a way warranting undivided attention. In these moments, my gratitude grows. Because funny aside, there’s something of substance left for the audience. And while these types of considerations have been and continue to be studied in academia or posited by other filmmakers, it doesn’t make it any less admirable or thought-provoking when witnessed in modern times.