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Ces Gens-La - Jacques Brel

and you still don't get it? You still don't get Jacques Brel? Well this should do the trick, with the subtitles perfectly timed for you to get the passion, the sprawling vision, while somehow encompassing every shred of the world's pathetic small tragedies, squalor and beauty in the same breath. This is Jacques Brel's unforgiving yet all forgiving, tender and despairing, cold-eyed take of a group of people.

Ces Gens-la (these people there) has one of the all time most bizarre first lines:

"First there's the oldest, the one shaped like a melon....", the line delivered with such presence, a grimace, an invitation, a gesticulation with both arms all in one opening phrase, that we are immediately under his spell.

And then we are subjected to a relentless but mesmerising series of critiques of a bunch of people, maybe a family, almost every line a surprising throwaway gem, literary but down to earth:

there's Falstaff:

"....who is completely stewed and takes himself for a king...."

the biting juxtapositions of Rabelais

"....and they find him in the morning, asleep in the church, stiff as a hard-on, white as an Easter candle...."

the surrealism of Magritte

"....and there's the other, carrots in his hair....."

"and in her wooden box there's the father's moustache - he died in a fall"

and his scathing Brechtian nailing of the petit bourgeoisie

"...(he) who would like to have an attitude, but has no attitude at all"

to quote but a few.

Towards the end, the mood suddenly lifts as he talks of his true love, Frida,

"...who's as beautiful as the sun and who loves me

the same as I love her...."

and the unremitting tone breaks into exultation as he talks of their dreams for the future, we have relief, but all too soon, he shows us that he is one of "them", flawed, tragic, mentally wounded,

"...the others say she is too beautiful for me, I am only good for skinning cats...."

and then the slow, wonderfully bizarre admission:

"I never killed cats. Well, a long time ago. ....Well, I forgot. Well, they seemed no good.

In the end the others didn't want it."

And we know for sure now that he is one of "them", ces gens-la. And having identified with him, we have to ask ourselves, are we also?

Typically, Brel never lets the suburban complacency of middle class liberals off the hook, always pressurising them into thinking , always making them shift uneasily in their comfy seats. Or should I say our comfy seats? And that, along with his great poetic lines, his passionate delivery, his moribund view, his romantic demeanour, is why he's so great.

And of course, I forgot to say, even though he's Belgian, he's SO French.

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