Review: Gangpol & Mit “Faits Divers”

My first introduction to French duo Gangpol & Mit (Guillaume Castagne and Sylvain Quément) was through their music. It wasn’t until recently that I learned they are as involved in the creation of animation as they are in concocting their unique blend of electronica.

Their latest DVD, Faits Divers (Pictoplasma Publishing), is a collection of 18 audio-visual offspring from Gangpol & Mit’s collaborative relationship. According to Pictoplasma, “Guillaume emails some graphics to Sylvain, who then composes a melody and sends it back – or Sylvain coughs up a tune and has Guillaume translate it into animated worlds.”

The introductory essay for Faits Divers from Peter Thaler and Lars Denicke builds an interesting context for the DVD, albeit in the affected language of an art exhibition. The thrust is this: “Eat technology before technology eats you.” This cultural wariness underscores much of the DVD’s contents: Gangpol & Mit are clearly in command of the technology they use to create their audio-visual works, and yet they seem to hold it at arm’s length, choosing to exercise only a certain level of sophistication, never more. in this, they remind of the Amish, who have decided that wheelbarrows and ovens are acceptable technologies, while everything else is regarded with suspicion.

As with all of Gangpol & Mit’s music, the soundtrack is a precise melange of meticulously crafted electronic hooks that mixes a staggering array of retro-flavored synths with Baroque fugues and campy musical devices. Melodies run and jump like Super Mario himself, and warm analogue pads wrap around your head with nostalgic charm.

The visuals, while equally controlled, are comprised of rudimentary vector shapes and gradients, animated in simple, mostly linear movements. If 8-bit Nintendo characters could reproduce and evolve, they might have grown into something like the cast of Faits Divers. In terms of its intentionally sophomoric execution and its left-field content, the animation reminds me of cut-scenes from the Katamari Damacy franchise. Colorful, simple and weird.

Gangpol & Mit juxtapose cultural ephemera like well-traveled DJs, mashing up new and old, familiar and obscure, high and low. Aztec warriors hurl cell phones at each other in a video game brawl, a James Bond-esque hero ingests a psychoactive plant, and a man riding a flying armchair considers cutting off his own arm to rid himself of an evil hand-puppet. Every moment of seemingly cheery sentiment is undercut by a quiet violence, a disturbance of some sort.

The contents of the DVD are grouped into loose categories: Clips/Stories, Activities, Art with Heart and Archives. Clips/Stories are loosely narrative sequences focusing on the misadventures of a motley cast of characters. Activities are stand-alone vignettes that often combine spoken word and music. Art with Heart is a series of three “interviews” with fictional artist characters, each of whom suffers from a unique form of narcissism. Archives contains three animations from the back-catalog of Gangpol & Mit: “Chinese Slavery,” “A Few Elements of Vocabulary” and “How to Play Ping-Pong.”

The accompanying 32-page booklet is handsomely produced and re-presents some of the DVD’s films as sequential art, complete with typographic annotations that shed a little light on the sometimes elusive narratives.

My only complaint: I wish the audio was available separately, either as an optional download or on a separate disc. While I appreciate the visuals, I want to listen to Gangpol & Mit so I can create my own stories to accompany their delightfully twisted tunes.

Note: Faits Divers is a PAL DVD. For more information and to purchase, visit Pictoplasma.

[starreview tpl=52 style='plain' size='16']