"Edgy" ad campaigns, repetitive sexual agressions sprinkled in pop-culture, juridic free passes for rapists… Let’s add to the women’s body sexualization the trivialisation of the violence towards it. Even if it means flirting with glamorization. But what would happen if roles were reversed? What would the public yelp out if Ramsay had had to suffer Sansa’s assaults?ZOU seems to have thought about it long and hard: “ Unfortunately, we work like that: if we don't identify with, if it’s not close to us, we’re not interested.” French artist relocated in Berlin, ZOU wrote “La Bombe” as a mean to purge her anger towards the violence of gendered relations. Four years later, she co-directed the music video. Selected at the Berlin Music Video Awards, the video play with and reverse the established codes to offer an atypical vision of sexual violence.
The result: it pokes you where it hurts.
Interview with a woman as talented with words as she is with images.
Can you tell us more about the origin of this project?
ZOU: I wrote the song “La Bombe” 4 years ago. I took inspiration in personal experiences that echoed with what I was seeing on screens, magazines, etc…
The idea of playing out a rape scene only came later. For me, that work hypothesis is symbolic: it transcribes what I express in the song while going even further. That artistic direction was comforted by what I was seeing all around me. I wanted to show the violence in human relations and put a spotlight on the power/responsibility of the media. “La Bombe”, it’s a rebellion, a critic in its rawest form of the normalisation of violence. It’s the use of crude words in the mouth of an artist-woman pointed at close range on a young man’s temple. I gave birth to "La Bombe" in a savage way. I was very angry. After that I made it mature through discussions, lectures, screenings.
Why “La Bombe”?
ZOU: There’s this idea of explosion, of war, of projections, but also of canon of beauty. It’s paradoxal and ambiguous, as everything around the subject of rape is. In “La Bombe”, there’s this idea of break up: breaking up with the known social patterns.
We looked for a way to give men the possibility to identify with the victim and to women, to identify with the perpetrator. Surprisingly –or not–, it’s more difficult to find an actor who’s got the nerve to play the part of Jim, than to find an actress to play the part of a rape victim.
On the other hand, I’ve had very positive reviews from the masculine audience, and more complicated, disparate ones from women. We’re showered with very cute women being raped in cinemas, with deeply misogynistic music videos. And it’s always the same pattern, it’s becoming the norm. The idea behind “La Bombe” is to change the referent to realise that it is not normal: rape is not sexy. Of course, for that we also heavily played on the actor Cyril Crampon’s sex appeal, in a way that shows how problematic this is. Eroticising rape is dramatic. With that plot twist, roles being reversed, we implicitly give rape its horrific nature back. In the lyrics, I refer to my family members as to condemn rape by association and by playing on our capacity to feel compassion for others: if I don’t want it to happen to my brother, then I don’t want it to happen to men, to women, etc… Out of sight, out of mind. Well, in the end we’re putting it back in sight to get your mind thinking.
The video was shot in a beautiful place in Paris…
ZOU: Yes, we shot on the Sorbonne’s rooftop. It was important to me that we settled in an exceptional background and to get out of the cliches and stereotypes of rape, which keeps us from thinking. Furthermore, we wanted to get out of the overused settings like the dark alley or the sketchy suburbs. In a way, we played with the familiarity and the exceptional traits of the place. A rooftop that looks over the city, it takes us out of time, of the everyday space, of reality. That way, we tried to keep our distance with history. The Pantheon-Sorbonne university, it’s also an emblematic place for me. We’re right in the heart of Paris, in the “quartier Latin”, a stone throw away from the Pantheon, of the Sainte-Geneviève library, etc… Yet, even the people who have access to all this still dare to hurt others. Rapes, organized rapes in parties… There are stories like that nearly every year in business schools, plenty of facts that are silenced by the schools’ administrations not to tarnish their reputation, if they’re even made of it. Stories that we don’t talk about out loud, that we do not name, but that really are rapes. (…) With "La Bombe", we talk to the elite about its taboo subjects.
As you said, we’re used to seeing “conventional” rape scenes. But here, the fact that it’s a man – and despite the fact that nothings really shown – it was really disturbing to watch…
ZOU: Cool! For me, it was an experience, I didn’t know if it was going to work. Indeed, we don’t show that much, it was important for us to play on ambiguity. With the dreamy background, the soft light, the good looking actor, there’s a kind of romanticism that emerges. It nevertheless is a rape. We wanted to take on the pastiche to the very end and in that way, go to the drama of it. It’s the originality of "La Bombe". Reversing roles is nothing new, but to do it seriously, I had never seen it, and that’s why we did it! There is a real problem in how rape is treated. For instance, in Irréversible (2002 movie by Gaspard Noé, editor’s note), the sexual agression scene is very trashy but still erotic at the same time. And eroticising is the real problem (…) But one thing is for certain, rape is a plague in our society. And regarding this, artists and medias have a responsibility (…) Lots of artists use sex, misogynistic statements, with economic and newsworthy goals, only to create the buzz. It’s a selfish choice that is excused by a whole side of nowadays artistic world (…)
You live in Berlin and you shot the music video in Paris. Do you notice differences between the two countries on gender equality?
ZOU: When I arrived in Germany, I thought the environment was great, much more equalitarian than in France: there’s a more pragmatic side, it seems more structured, in the streets you don’t get catcalled… Then I worked in a production company that was very well established on the national and European market: barely 5% of the directors were women. Oops! Should I change career? The glass ceiling is present here too. You see it less at first, but it’s still present.
I decided to shoot in Paris because that’s where I was living when I wrote the song and I sing in French. It was more coherent than to shoot it in Berlin.