EmptyPARIS -- Adapted from Frederic Beigbeder's novel of the same title -- one of the biggest French best-sellers of recent years -- and starring the very bankable Jean Dujardin ("Brice de Nice," "0SS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies"), Jan Kounen's "99 Francs" represents a scathing -- for France -- satire on the advertising industry, one that is likely to do excellent business in its home territory.
Dujardin plays Octave Parango, whizz-kid creative director of the advertising agency Ross and Witchcraft whom we first meet standing on the roof of a skyscraper in driving rain apparently bent on committing suicide. In voice-over -- there is a great deal of VO and direct address to camera -- Octave explains that he is the master of the world, the man who decides today what Joe Public will want to buy tomorrow. And that he is a very bad lot indeed.
He then leads us through the stages of his career, presenting his colleagues -- fellow creator Charlie (Jocelyn Quivrin), finance director Jeff (Patrick Mille), girlfriend Sophie (Vahina Giocante) -- and CEO Alfred Duler (Nicolas Marie), of his leading client, a major dairy products manufacturer.
Quite how bad a lot he is becomes rapidly apparent as the film watches him snort large quantities of cocaine and vent his cynical wit on all around him. When Sophie informs him that she is pregnant with his child, he proves incapable of producing an authentic human response. But he is lucid enough and decides finally to rebel, notably by sabotaging the launch of a new brand of yogurt.
Comparable with last year's "Thank you for Smoking," Jason Reitman's acerbic take on lobbyists for Big Tobacco, "99 Francs" is strong stuff for France where advertisers traditionally wield considerable influence among television broadcasters who in turn have a major say as regards which movies get made.
Kounen, working from a script by Nicolas Charlet and Bruno Laveine with some impromptu input by Dujardin, pulls few punches in his portrayal of advertising agencies as dens of narcissistic, coke-fueled opportunists on the make. Having made 30 or so ads himself, mostly in England, he presumably knows something of what he is talking about. His approach is not always subtle, and cliche is always lurking, but the movie is constantly inventive and the jokes score more hits than misses.
Some of the humor will fall flat with non-French audiences, but the movie is also dotted with references to well-known movie directors such as Sergio Leone, Stanley Kubrick, Wong Kar-Wai and Federico Fellini. Kounen is more interested in effects than in narrative clarity. The reality status of a number of scenes appears problematic -- real, pastiche, publicity or drug-induced fantasy? -- though in this the movie reflects the novel.
The pace is fast and furious. Since Kounen deploys the techniques of advertising the better to debunk them, he risks burdening the spectator with sensory overload. But it's all good fun with real bite, and France's best-known yogurt manufacturer will not be best pleased to see its brand name lightly disguised as Madone.
Film 99 Francs, Pathe, Arte France Cinema
Director: Jan Kounen
Writers: Nicolas Charlet, Bruno Laveine, Jan Kounen
Producer: Ilan Goldman
Director of photography: David Ungaro
Production designer: Michel Barthelemy
Music: Jean-Jacques Hertz, Francois Roy
Costume designer: Sylvie Ong, Claire Lacaze
Editor: Anny Danche
Octave Parango: Jean Dujardin
Charlie: Jocelyn Quivrin
Jeff: Patrick Mille
Sophie: Vahina Giocante
Tamara: Elisa Tovati
Duler: Nicolas Marie
Jean-Christian Gagnant: Dominique Bettenfeld
Running time -- 100 minutes
No MPAA rating