On Va Consomme: Stromae's "Carmen"

What a pleasure to introduce one of my favorite animated music videos: a particularly topical collab between Belgian electronic pop icon Stromae and famed French animator Sylvain Chomet. Stromae is known for his deep-cutting lyrics and stylistic, thought-provoking music videos, while Chomet brought us such animated classics as The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist, the latter of which we featured last March.

Many of Stromae's songs involve a critique of society and reflections on personal identity, and his "Carmen" video is a sterling example of these recurring themes in his work. In this re-interpretation of Georges Bizet's tune from an opera of the same name, a physical manifestation of the twitter logo appears as the figure of Carmen, symbolizing the way in which social media can overtake our lives. One can easily see the opera's moral interpreted through a modern lens in this work: while at first Carmen (here figured as a bossy blue bird) feeds our neglected egos and fill our lives with an intoxicating sort of jouissance, eventually our obsession consumes us and ultimately becomes destructive.

This short doesn't pull any punches, and choosing to work with Chomet's dark drawing style supports this exploration of the darker side of modern technology. While the subject matter may feel beaten to death these days, the way this video marries the lyrics and the visuals make it worth watching.

"Carmen" is sweet and even light-hearted towards the start: soft familial French kitchens and doughy pink bedrooms highlight the warm embrace of IRL interpersonal connection and the un-self-consciousness of youth. As we shift away from the warm red-orange palette of cozy interior spaces lit with natural light to a blue-ish dint reminiscent of LED screens brought to bear by jittery street-side neon signs towards the second half, the viewer gets thrust into a frightening funhouse of self-referential post-modernity with all the aesthetics of a pop-up ad with a worm in it.

To take a step aside from the visual aspect of this video for a moment, and despite the fact this is an animation review, my favorite part of the piece is actually the biting lyrics. Being le Snob that I am, I would argue the subtleties of the hard-coded subs in the video don't truly capture the layers found in the original French paroles. Here is the striking refrain in its original form:

Et c’est comme ça qu’on s’aime, s’aime, s’aime, s’aime

Comme ça consomme, somme, somme, somme, somme

This refrain is layered with multiple rhyming double entendres, and is the musical as well as thematic keystone of the song. At first look, these lines can be read as:

And that's how we like, like, like, like

That's how we are consumed, sumed, sumed, sumed

The first line can also be translated as "And that's how we love each other" with the second line meaning "How we consummate [sic]". A chilling take and stiff critique of smartphone dating culture, considering the main subplot of the story is Stromae trying to bed and ultimately alienating a female admirer in service of the ever-expanding twitter monster.

Another interpretation of the second line returns to the capitalistic critique of consumerism present throughout the piece, with the emphasis lying on the second syllable of consomme, being the word somme. This can be read as both "sum" as in sum of money, as well as "nap" or "sleep". This foreshadows how the people who buy into social media are the ones being used as they wander sleep-walking through their own lives. Stromae's character wakes up out of his zombie-like state in a twist that clearly bears the mark of Chomet's storytelling and visual style, but don't let me spoil it! Check out the video below, and tell us what you make of it in the comments section. And thanks for reading.

If you liked "Carmen", here's a playlist of Stromae's other videos!

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