Even the greatest filmmakers out there sometimes need to pay the bills.
In the 1990s, Swiss tobacco company F. J. Burrus hired name brand art house directors to make commercials for their Parisienne brand of cigarettes. The company gave free rein to the filmmakers both in terms of content and approach. And the talent they managed to attract is astonishing: David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, Emir Kusturica, Roman Polanski and, most puzzlingly, Jean-Luc Godard.
Wait a second, you might say. Wasn’t Godard an avowed Maoist at one point in his life? Wasn’t he one of the most consistently anti-bourgeois, anti-capitalist figures in filmdom? Yes. And he also did cigarette commercials. He did a few for Nike too.
You can see his ad for Parisienne above. Typical with late period Godard, the commercial is both literary, political and willfully difficult. Credited to both Godard and his long time creative and romantic partner Anne-Marie Miéville, the commercial features a skateboarder slaloming between large boxes of cigarettes, some guy in bare feet shuffling through a floor littered with Parisienne packages and a well-to-do woman reading a novel called Parisienne People. On the soundtrack, Godard reads a quote from Racine. It’s probably nothing that Don Draper would have been happy with, but Burrus was pleased.
Ads by other filmmakers similarly show off their quirks and obsessions. The Coen brothers’ commercial, for instance, looks less like an advert than a scene from one of their movies. A dandy smoking a cig from a holder is deeply moved by a sweaty vaudeville performance. When it ends, he whispers, “Again.” It’s a resolution that raises as many questions as it answers. It’s a whole short story in 30 seconds.
Emir Kusturica’s ad is packed with magicians, acrobats, Balkan pastiche and gorgeous ingénues in black. Just like his movies. Side note: Kusturica has a successful side career playing in a band called The No Smoking Orchestra.
And David Lynch’s ad plays out like a nightmare from someone who fell asleep reading a Walter Mosley novel.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.