The First Thing You See - Grégoire Delacourt
Grégoire Delacourt previously worked in the world of publicity on a number of notable advertising campaigns for companies in France including Apple. He should know a bit then about the importance of appearances, which is the subject of his most recent book to be published in English, The First Thing You See ('La première chose qu'on regarde'). An alternative title for the book could be "What's Right in Front of your Eyes". That's the sentiment behind the story, a simple philosophical look at learning to not get caught up in appearances and ideals, but in accepting what you have and finding happiness and beauty in it. It's a lovely sentiment, but unfortunately it doesn't really have anything original to say about the subject other that the most obvious and simplistic observations.
'The First Thing You See' does however have an interesting spin on how it gets it message across. Arthur Drefuss is 20 and looks a bit like Ryan Gosling ("only better looking"). He's a car mechanic in a small French provincial village. As unlikely as it seems, he's surprised one evening by a knock at the door, only to find Scarlett Johansson ("the most beautiful woman in the world") standing there. Tired of all the fuss at a French film festival, she's taken off alone in her car and arrived at Arthur's house in the middle of nowhere. She asks if she can stay over, and she's not looking her car fixed. Well, what would you do? The spellbound Arthur eventually comes to look past the incredible boobs and lovely but superficial appearances and accept the real person behind them for who she really is. Of course he gets all the surface attractions as well, which is nice...
It would be amusing and a bit 'Being John Malkovich' absurd to imagine those actors playing these parts in a film adaptation, and it is actually a good visual hook that could open up other levels on the nature of identity and personality. Unfortunately the Scarlett Johansson obsession does seem to be nothing more than it appears and it does get rather irritating after a while. It's a love story of course, but one that is unfortunately nauseatingly sentimental, with some long drawn out sexual tension building up to an inevitably pseudo-poetic consummation of their love. As far as what all this tells us about life and people in general, it's all a bit wishy-washy. An observation like "Why is happiness so sad?" (what does that even mean?) could be some clever working with oxymoron that invites us to consider how we really label and feel emotions, but its answer " ...Perhaps because it never lasts" suggests that it's manufactured just to lead towards a rather obvious and manipulative tragic ending.
It's not exactly Milan Kundera, although that is the kind of style affected here; a kind of The Unbearable Lightness of Being Scarlett Johansson. The writing is not particularly engaging however, it's littered with pop-culture references, a large amount of which are French, and has pretensions to be deep and meaningful. Anyone really interested in seeing how the true allure and attraction of Scarlett Johansson can be exploited more meaningfully will find much more to think about in Jonathan Glazer's imaginative 2013 film 'Under The Skin'.
The First Thing You See is published by W&N on 10th September 2015.