Film: Jeunet Takes Five (Chanel No. 5)

A flash of red, Belle Epoque architecture, and a vintage SNCF train engine in deep green are the opening of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s masterful min-film commercial for Chanel No. 5. The filmmaker sets his favored palette immediately (red, green, black, and amber), and washes it in his signature sepia-tint, making the film appear perfectly, romantically aged.

This is the look of Jeunet. Despite his place among modern French auteurs, his mise-en-scene always shows this specific palette and elements of times gone by; and if those elements no longer exist, he re-creates them to perfection. His stories are fantasy-based, even the more realistic such as Amélie and A Very Long Engagement, allowing him the freedom to create his own complete worlds. Of course, most filmmakers do this anyway, but very few except for Wes Anderson, actually do it to the extent of Jeunet. Even in the entirely fantastic films of Delicatessen, City of Lost Children and Alien: Resurrection, Jeunet’s aesthetic remains intact. His arsenal of technicians and actors rarely changes helping with this consistency, but each story is so wholly unique that it is clearly the director’s own vision driving the style.

It is to Chanel’s credit that the firm allowed Jeunet to create their latest marketing film within his own stylistic preferences while honoring the product it showcases so completely. (They did the same for Baz Luhrmann’s version a few years ago as well, but that work was such a flagrant rip-off of Moulin Rouge that it doesn’t stand on its own as well as Jeunet’s does.) In fact, Jeunet’s style is the perfect lens for the lore and romance surrounding Chanel No. 5. Invented in 1921 as the first perfume to feature synthetic aldehydes, the scent was a complete departure from the floridly sweet scents of the era. Another change was its packaging; most perfumes at the time were encased in wildly sculptural etched glass flacons, while Chanel No. 5 emerged in a clean-lined, geometric bottle. The difference was like a spotlight on the vanity table. In 1959, the Museum of Modern Art New York inducted the bottle into its packaging exhibit.

Since its creation, Chanel No. 5 has been among the most popular scents in the world, and is certainly the best-known. The Jeunet mini-film is pitch-perfect in its reserve: since everyone already knows the product, he understands that it doesn’t need to be given a heavy hand. One of the best moments of the film is when the light shines through the bottle of No. 5, casting a gorgeous, glimmering shadow across Audrey Tautou’s train berth. The moment is doubly witty as Toutou lies in her bed nude, recalling Marilyn Monroe’s famous quote about Chanel No. 5 being the only thing she wore to bed.

Apart from the actual look of the mini-film, there are also plot elements that are classically Jeunet: romance among strangers, missed encounters, voyeurism, and irony. Yet with all its stylistic beauty, Jeunet smartly brings home the product as a fragrance of eternal modernity. The girl (Tautou) is young, hip, casually dressed, and packed for easy travel, but she still chooses a scent that is over eighty years old. (The film was released on May 5th, or 5/5 – the eighty-eight years to the date from the fragrance’s release in 1921.) This is a gentle but genius stroke of the artist successfully communicating the product in an exciting, approachable way. This is similar to Sophia Coppola’s young ye ye girls in her recent commercial for Miss Dior Cherie – youthful, fun, vintage-inspired, but entirely modern.

When Billie Holiday’s “I’m a Fool to Want You” comes over the soundtrack, Jeunet’s stylish irony comes forward. The decades-old song is romantic and mysterious, the perfect accompaniment to Toutou, but is she singing of the romance between the boy and girl, or the romance between the girl and Chanel No. 5? Or, is it saying that we (the consumers) are all fools to love such beautiful, ephemeral things of indulgence and luxury? The inclusion of this song goes a lot further than simple soundtrack.

Overall, this is an excellent bit of marketing from Chanel that unites artistry and messaging in an entirely engaging way. It is lovely that the luxury houses still spend time and expense on these types of media. It is almost a new art form entirely, limited to a select few firms such as Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel, but the cost is so well-spent. As art foundations continue to diminish and advertising gets less and less creative, the luxury brand commercials continue to excite and inspire. More please!

Visit the Chanel website devoted to Jeunet's film for a high-resolution playing. It is worth seeing this way! Special thanks to The Luxe Chronicles for suggesting that link.

Note: Personally, Chanel No. 5 is not one of my favorites, but I am especially fond of Coco... - Ms. P&C