Sound And Vision: Xavier Gens

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
Sound And Vision: Xavier Gens

In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we look at Ronan Keating and Paulina Rubio's When You Say Nothing At All, directed by Xavier Gens.

Before he became one of the key figures of New French Extreme cinema (a wave of particularly brutal French horror movies in the late nineties and early aughts), and one of the prime examples of what they call vulgar auteurism, Xavier Gens was a music video director. His highest profile video was the one for Ronan Keating and Paulina Rubio's version of When You Say Nothing At All, which was already a hit as a solo-version for Ronan Keating.

The version of the video that was directed by Xavier Gens is a perfectly serviceable affair, that might seem like a far cry from the grimy guts and gore of films like Frontier(s) or The Divide, both very dour explorations of humanity as naturally inclined to do evil. Nor does the video come close to the vulgar mayhem of films like, well, Mayhem, or Hitman for that matter, that have knucklebreaking action and a highspeed velocity. No, this music video is a relatively sedate affair, showcasing the two singers in a stylish living room. That's it. There's not much more to it.

But there are still minor touches that give away that we might in fact be dealing with a Xavier Gens video. While it is a romantic and stylized video, with a glossy sheen, in editing, camerawork and composition, you can still see some of the hallmarks of Gens frantic fastpaced style.

The camera glides across the architecturally modernistic hallways where Rubio and Keating reside, in a way that suggest that, even though the two lovers might be filmed and kept mostly apart, their love transcends time and space. The clever use of objects in the living room, used to carefully edit and composite the shots together, is the clear hallmark of someone who knows how to block and frame action, even if the action is 'singing to the camera'. The fact that this was all obviously filmed in front of a green screen also gives this music video a slightly heightened reality, that makes this video a clear part of a filmography that also contains a film like Hitman. Gens work might at times be garish, but it is unapologetic about it.

And like Frontier(s), The Divide and some of the actions-sequences in Mayhem, the whole raison d'etre of this music video is the confrontation between two people in an enclosed space. Gens loves the idea of a claustrophobic single setting in which to stage a setpiece of an entire film, and exploring the way in which humans interact in that fenced-off space. In The Divide it is the idea of a group of survivors after and apocalypse bashing each others head in, in When You Say Nothing At All, it is a story of two lovers being kept apart by the space they're in, until the final shot where they are romantically entangled by singing to each other. Not that much of a difference, clearly. What I'm saying is, even when Gens is in a glossy romance mode, there is still a particularly odd use of space and blocking that feels peculiarly his.

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