Under the Influence: Nicolas Davenel

September 29, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The foundations this Iconoclast director builds his films on.

Ever since we decided which band names to scrawl on our school rucksacks, the stuff we’re into has come to define us. The art, music, film and hobbies we surround ourselves shape us and the things we create.

So having seen the dynamic, stylish music videos and branded content on Iconoclast director Nicolas Davenel’s reel, we were fascinated to hear about the components that feed his filmmaking.

Early 2000s Hip Hop Videos

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a director.

I didn’t even really watch a lot of movies until the age of about 20 but I was influenced a lot by music videos. I grew up in Brittany in the countryside. At the time there was no YouTube so I remember downloading music videos with my friends, which was a tough job on 56k internet. We burned them on DVDs and built up a collection.

When I was in high school I was really into American hip-hop. All those early 2000s music videos, not even underground stuff – Beastie Boys, Busta Rhymes, N.E.R.D., DMX. The video for Gimme Some More by Busta Rhymes – that crazy cartoon environment paired with all the rap clichés – I think that is a part of why I wanted to make music videos. I was excited by that.

Later I was fascinated by music videos based on a visual concept, instead of a story. Like all the Michel Gondry music videos, the one he did for The White Stripes, or the one he did for The Chemical Brothers that was a view from a train and every piece of the landscape represents a layer of the music.

My first music video was purely visual too, just a fast dollyshot through the streets of Paris. We had no money so I just used my camera and took pictures, building the fake dolly shot through Paris streets in a 25fps stop motion, that made it sort of look like a video and not stop motion.

Motor-head Subcultures

I’ve done several films about motorbikes and the communities around them. I have a passion for motor-fashions. I’ve done a couple of pieces about motorcycle gangs. I followed moped gangs in the US, spent some time with them, did a music video around a group of motorcycle stunters. I like the community around the vehicles – the passion around a specific object that can become a movement.

The thing is these people are mostly from the countryside where you have a really normal life and having a passion like this is a way to touch the extraordinary and build friendships. There’s something that touches me. It’s about being a hero in a regular environment.

There’s a rich visual environment about Motor that is really attractive and what really got me going was the idea that this vehicle becomes a huge part of their life. They decorate and paint it, it essentially becomes part of their family!

I liked also weird Motor cultures, like tractor pulling. It started with farmers comparing the power of their horses, and now people put three helicopter engines in a tractor and compete by pulling heavy loads on a 100m track. It’s really a motorsport. I like it because it might look ridiculous from the outside, but it’s deeply interesting when you look closer at it.

Bruno Dumont

He directed La Vie De Jesus, and a short series called P’tit Quinquin which is a hilarious burlesque thriller, with a lot of dark humor. P’tit Quinquin is also all about a sense of growing up in a rural, racist environment. In the first episode they find human body parts stuffed inside the asshole of a cow.

All of his films take place in the north of France, like La Vie De Jesus. The story was inspired by something he saw in the newspaper, a racist crime in a small village. Some guys had beaten up an Arab guy. He was wondering how you could end up murdering someone for his race in the countryside where people are almost all white. It’s just following a group of teenagers who hang out on mopeds because they have nothing else to do. There’s an Arab kid in the village. It’s about how this hate starts growing up.

He works with real people, casting on location so all the kids you see are actually from those towns and I love this authentic style. His work is really cynical about humanity. It’s also really touching though and really ambiguous. You never know if he’s a misanthropist or not. He has a raw style that’s really beautiful.

Andreas Nilsson

Having made music videos I’m a big fan of his work. He has an amazing talent to combine his great sense of humour with something freaky. I was really inspired by some of his work when I started, like the videos he did for Fever Ray.

I like how he’s able to do films with an intense environment, almost paranormal or fantastical and also make them funny. I love the music video for Peter, Bjorn and John for It Don’t Move Me about a father teaching a kid to dance like Michael Jackson. The ideas for his music videos are always really simple, but somehow he could fill a whole feature film about that kid and his dad. Being able to put that into three minutes is great.

He also does really funny ones like 2Chainz, Birthday Song. It links to those early 2000s rap videos, where everything is really clichéd. He’s taking that and he’s able to put a lot of humour into it. It’s a sequence shot. It’s riffing on the cliché of a hip-hop video from the beginning and you feel he and Kanye West are making fun of that whole thing.


I really like Jeff Nichols. Take Shelter and Shotgun stories are great movies.

Mud is probably not the film people would talk about as their best movie ever, but seeing that was the first time I realised the sort of feature film I’d like to make, it made a great impression on me. You can feel that every piece of the puzzle is there in the right place, every character, every piece of the story fits well.

It’s about a kid who is helping a fugitive that’s hiding on an Island in the Mississippi.

The Mississippi background is amazing and it’s about a community that is disappearing, people living in houses on the river.

That theme connects also to Beasts of the Southern Wild, which is an amazing first feature from Benh Zeitlin and also a story of a disappearing community in the bayou of Louisiana.

I guess those films have all the themes that I like. a social background treated with a bit of magic, often seen through the eyes of children who are trying to understand the adult world while at the same time becoming one.

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