MaM: 99 Francs

You know you are in for a ride when a film opens with an advertising executive jumping from a roof top, shouting out “everything can be bought: love, art, earth,… even I’m for sale”.

In 99 Francs, the main protagonist, Octave, is a successful advertising copy writer, leading the fast life: women, drugs … and making people buy things they don’t really need. Octave is the epitome of  the arrogant, self-indulgent marketing executive: Working for the aptly named Ross & Witchcraft, he is too busy to reflect on his actions, focused on his wealth and ignoring his moral decline.

Things come to a head when his one love (Sophie) reveals she is pregnant. After this things turn for him: He is turning increasingly frustrated with his life, seeking refuge in pornography, with a prostitute (Tamara), drugs and leading ultimately to increasingly hallucinogenic visions of advertising campaigns in his head. He ends up in rehab, but is released in time to shoot a commercial with Tamara in Miami. Following the successful shoot of the commercial, and a last drug-fuelled ride through Miami the film departs in alternate realities: In one, Octave finds out that Sophie has killed herself because of him – leading him to kill himself. In an other, the film presents a different ending Robinson Crusoe style – based on, in true marketing style, focus group research (and which one would is your preferred ending?).

The film is a departure from the glossy image of the advertising executive: it tries to balance philosophical insights with satirical depictions of the dark side of advertising, successfully in my view. The film remains entertaining and cynical, without drifting off into the documentary category, or becoming relentlessly boring while taking a critical look at the advertising industry – and those who are in it.  99 Francs can’t be seen as a film reflective of modern advertising practice – nor offering particularly meaningful insights into marketing practice. But it is not meant to be either: The film is a caricature, and as such depicts (successfully and entertainingly) extremes. But it is in these extremes that one can find a reflection of the real, and understand the ultimate effects of individual actions.

Entertaining, funny, cynical and critical, the film gives a flavour of the highly acclaimed book it is based on (sadly I haven’t read it). A satirical look at consumer culture, and at those who create it, well worth spending 120 minutes of your time on – including waiting for the end statistic on advertising spent!

Check out some more interesting Movies about Marketing and Consumption on this MUBI list. And please don’t forget to let me know what you think about the movie via the comments below!

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