In modern culture, there are works of art that have passed the test of time, and for many centuries, people have been turning to them. Literary works, which can be called timeless, are rather few in number, but they form the basis of human culture and civilization. In the modern world, in particular, in the 21st century, works have also been created that can become immortal and affect the development of society in a fundamental way. One example of such works of art is the 2007 film 99 Francs, directed by Jan Kounen. It is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Frederic Beigbeder, published in 2000. This work tells about the inner struggle of the character Octave Parengo, who gradually realizes the futility of the values of a capitalist society. 99 Francs can become a supertemporal literary work by presenting a timeless idea in a direct and understandable for a more modern viewer manner.
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This film has a clear plot structure, within which the viewer can follow the development of the character and the transformation of his ideas about the world. In particular, at the beginning of the work, Octave is presented as a person absolutely fascinated by contemporary capitalistic values. He emphasizes that it took humanity two thousand years to achieve such an impact of advertising on society (99 Francs 19:00). Octave also views himself as one of the most powerful people in modern human history, proud of the fact that “your desires don’t belong to you anymore” (99 Francs 8:50). He is blinded by his influence on the minds of people, not yet realizing that his own desires and values are imposed on him from the outside.
However, the meeting with a large client completely changes Octave’s perception of the world. In the course of discussing new advertising, he begins to realize that his activities are devoid of any meaning. The character gradually begins to become disillusioned with the brilliant world of advertising that has attracted him over the years. Octave eventually notes that “to succeed, it needed a sacrifice” (99 Francs 23:00). He emphasizes that the modern world requires a person to abandon their own values and completely surrender to imposed desires. However, Octave immediately adds that he is unlikely to be able to make such a sacrifice. This episode marks the transformation of his views and the realization that he is rather a hostage to his position.
The world of advertising is gradually literally driving Octave crazy. He recalls his beloved Sophie, whom he abandoned after learning about her pregnancy. The character regrets this and imagines how he could have done otherwise because he felt happy with her (99 Francs 45:00). Octave tries to drown out the pain with the usual entertainment, which leads him to an overdose of drugs. This episode is also notable, as he experiences hallucinations that his whole life is an advertisement, and he is just an actor in it (99 Francs 54:30-56:00). This idea is quite simple and directly communicated to the viewer, which makes this film valuable in terms of the test of time.
This work openly shows the contrast between two types of values - internal, inherent in human nature, and imposed from the outside. In this case, Octave realizes that his soul and mind are drawn to the natural needs of a person, such as love and purpose. The character is well aware that everything in the world is temporary, especially since he himself is a human being. The joys of civilization, such as new products, drugs, or sex, do not bring Octave satisfaction, although he tries to convince himself of this. His nature communicates more and more clearly his needs, which contrasts with the very temporary existence of a person. As human beings, fashion, advertising, and entertainment are temporary phenomena that do not generate permanent and lasting value. Octave is aware of this fact, although it tries to argue with it actively.
The film raises the extremely important topic of not only human nature and destiny but also self-resilience. Octave notes that, on the one hand, the world prevents him from realizing his true essence, and on the other, he himself refuses to do so (99 Francs 20:30). In particular, this is due to the fear of being misunderstood, which is also well illustrated by the episode of his attempt to leave his position immediately after the meeting (99 Francs 30:00). The character is afraid of losing his privileged place and being banished from the brilliant world. Thus, the true inner human nature, which prioritizes spiritual and moral needs and external values that are imposed by civilization and society, is opposed in him.
At the end of the film, several events occur that mark Octave’s awareness of his helpless position and the meaninglessness of his life in general. First of all, he commits several murders while driving while intoxicated, which attracts the attention of the police (99 Francs 1:18:00-1:20:00). Most importantly, Octave learns that Sophie committed suicide because of him (99 Francs 1:21:00). The combination of these two events makes Octave realize the insignificance of his own life and the futility of all his past desires. The character finds nothing better than to end his existence by jumping from the roof of a building. This episode of the fall is shown both at the beginning of the film and at the end, showing the full cycle of the story.
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Thus, Octave understands that his life was not only temporary but also did not leave behind any lasting value. He caused suffering to loved ones by abandoning them, while those to whom he was drawn turned away from him. At the beginning of the film, already falling from the roof, Octave notes that “man is a product with a sale deadline” (99 Francs 3:00). This assumption emphasizes the main idea of this work, which can make it timeless. A person’s life is finite, while the values that he or she maintains during its course can be lasting. Desires imposed by the external environment, especially by modern civilization, are not natural for a human being. They cannot make a person happy or satisfied, but rather the opposite. The values of capitalist society are ephemeral and illusory, while moral and spiritual aspirations can bestow a kind of immortality on the individual.
Octave, as a character, is a martyr of the modern generation, which is emphasized in the film through allusions to Christ. He realizes that his inner struggle, as well as the suffering arising from it, is collective and not individual. Most illustrative in this respect, the opening credits of the film are introduced with the phrase “It doesn’t change the world, but it contributes” (99 Francs 1:40). This statement, again, directly emphasizes the main idea of the film, which the author tried to convey to the viewer. Awareness of the natural values of a human being, even for one person, marks a change in a potential public consciousness. The author hopes that sooner or later, society, through such martyrs as Octave, will come to realize the need to renounce illusory and false desires.
99 Francs can be a timeless film as it points directly to ideas that are relevant to people as a species. This work explores human nature and the soul as the basis for the creation of social values. The author emphasizes that despite the development of civilization and the imposition of new views, human nature remains unchanged. A person may succumb to new trends, but inevitably he or she will strive for timeless values. Only the satisfaction of spiritual and moral needs can bring happiness to a human being, while an excess of temporary, passing values is frustrating. Such ideas are constant in human culture and are permanently discussed regardless of generation.
It is the combination of such traits as clarity of communication and simplicity of the idea that makes 99 Francs a masterpiece of contemporary art. This film is an update and transposition of immortal ideas that are close to people of all centuries. Probably, in the future, in a hundred or two hundred years, people will be able to watch this literary work and relate to it. Perhaps they will have a completely different civilization, or it will not exist at all, but the values indicated in the film will remain inherent in human beings. In the future, people will be able to look at their temporary external environment-imposed desires through the lens of the film and recognize themselves in the character Octave Parengo.
99 Francs. Directed by Jan Kounen, Légende Films, 2007.