Romain Gavras: the most controversial or the greatest music video director in the world?

Other | Monday 17th June 2013 | jim

You may not have heard of him as a person, but you surely will have seen one of his videos or heard one of the songs he has created videos for. Romain Gavras is a Greek-French director who is probably best known for his directing of MIA’s Born Free music video, which was later banned due to the controversial nature of the content. 

Known for his gritty realism and intense camera shots, his videos can be described as both beautiful, terrifying, brutal and horrifying. The films often portray a gritty reality juxtaposed with flashy high energy content.

If you were to catch a glimpse of any of his videos on a screen you would easily be forgiven for thinking they were part of Cannes winning foreign film. The cinematography, scene changes and camera angles are something you would expect to see in a feature length film, not a music video. Very often the music videos will not even feature the musicians, although a few do, but instead real people doing real things, although some of these real things have been heightened beyond belief.

His videos are very often un-regrettably controversial, but this with the combination of the cinematography and direction is what makes them amazing.


His first music video for DJ Mehdi and his song Signature, is a perfect example of the style which would later, and stil does define his career.

Simian Mobile Disco’s I Believe music video films a group of families in an Eastern Europe looking country, and has no apparent relevance to the song. But does that matter? The video is a joy to watch and keeps you entertained while simian mobile disco plays behind.

However, it was not until his music video for Justice’s Stress that, his style would become more violent. The video is a little reminiscent of the classic French film La Haine, featuring a group of French youths, wearing Justice bomber jackets, on a mission to terrorise and find trouble throughout some French towns. The gritty nature of the video, and the intense, ‘in-your-face’ camera action, perfectly match the stressful nature of this tune.  The music video seems more like a documentary than a music video as the cameraman seems involved in documenting an actual gang in France.

Perhaps though Gavras is most famous for his Born Free video by M.I.A. which came under both harsh criticism, and huge praise. The controversial nature of the film follows a group of law enforcement troops in America violently rounding up all the ‘red-haired’ people in the city and taking them to what can be described as a concentration camp. The song almost becomes an addition to the video, rather than the other way round, as it moves in and out of intensity.

The video does contain a warning at the start, but even so the scenes are so stressful that at point you want to turn the video off. The plot is revealed in parts and it only later becomes clear what is happening. Here Gavras builds the story like that of an Oscar winning film. The over-the-top dramatic, explosion filled ending is both haunting and incredibly gory as police beat people with batons and landmines explode, building to a climax with the music and then a dramatic ending.

His second video for M.I.A. 'Bad Girls', although following a similar direction cinematographically is far easier on the mind, leaving the violent nature behind, and actually featuring M.I.A. in the video. The realistic style of the video is juxtaposed with strange dance scenes, and very high intensity driving scenes, that again seem to match the song perfectly without ever having any real connection to it.

His most recent video though, and probably his biggest to date, is for Kanye and Jay Z’s No church in the wild. This video features a group of angry rioters in a Czech republic city and is clearly influenced by the violent unrest that took place through the country. Over 200 extras were used and the close up shots of violent rioting, and police brutality are juxtaposed against calm shots of ancient sculptures. This video seems an accumulation of all the other videos having the violence and shock of Born Free, while featuring more the realistic and relevant content of Justice’s stress. It is again the incredible camera shots, lighting and perfect matching of song to a video that appears to have no apparent link, that produces such a captivating music video, that while graphic, brutal, terrorizing, is also still beautiful.


From looking at his music videos, you would have expected his list of movies to be longer than your arm and more highly acclaimed than Lord of the Rings. However, his exploration into the world of filmmaking has been very small. His only really known film is Our Day Will Come from 2010, which may be seen as a follow up film to M.I.A.’s Born Free.

In my opinion his videos sit perfectly well with the songs, and although elements might seem unwatchable, and this is what makes them the best music videos ever produced.  


Written by Jim Roberts