Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One-Night Stands: 'Sparring Partner'

Have you ever noticed how a visual can affect the way you process a song? Do you have songs that you like because you first heard them within the context of a music video, movie or TV show?

Do you ever wonder whether you would have liked the song if the imagery or scene hadn't led you into it? I mean really, think about "Take On Me" by A-ha and tell me you would still remember it today if it didn't have that video attached to it.

"Sparring Partner" serves as the backdrop for this scene in the disturbing French movie 5x2, which tells the story of a couple's breakdown in reverse order, starting with the divorce and ending with their first meeting. As you can tell from the scene, it is very, very French. There is a lot of smoking and people never being incredulous or shocked, even when a bunch of fucked-up shit happens.

This song, particularly within the context of the scene, is hypnotic and could not be a better choice. The singer, Paolo Conte, sounds like his vocal cords were dredged in gravel, whiskey, tobacco and severe disappointment for several years. The piano and the guitar snake around each other beautifully in the beginning. You know, like sparring partners.

I listened to it compulsively after watching the movie and still come back to it every once in awhile. To me, it captures what is seductive and also elusive about love. Then again, I am utterly clueless regarding the meaning of the Italian lyrics, which involve a monkey, memory, a secret, a smile, an elephant and some other words that came up on Babelfish.

It appears that the title of the song, however, has no convenient Italian translation. Conte finds the phrase "sparring partner" so necessary that he turns to English within the song. I almost prefer that the lyrics remain unknown to me. That said, if anyone out there knows Italian and cares to translate, that would be welcome.

Music: "Sparring Partner"

UPDATE: Thank you to commenters for the insights! Lyrics translated below, as listed in Phil Powrie's "The Haptic Moment: Sparring with Paolo Conte in Ozon's 5x2." First of all, I can't believe someone wrote a whole paper on this song as featured in the movie. My hat is off to Phil Powrie. Second of all, I just learned a tubular new word, one that dovetails nicely with the previous post: haptic. Finally, "Sparring Partner" may not be about the seductiveness and elusiveness of love, but rather about the seductiveness and elusiveness of lyrics translated from Italian.

A macaque without history,
She says about him,
As he lacks memory
At the bottom of his dark gloves
But his gaze is a veranda
Give it time and you will see him,
Entering the jungle
No, don't ever meet him

Did you look inside the game
Is this all? -- well, you know
I'm an old sparring partner
And I never saw
A calm more tiger-like
More secret than this,
Take the first bus, go,
Everything else is already poetry

He might be more than 40,
And that applause
Is due to him for love,
No, don't ever meet him
He was there in his smile
Looking at the trams go by
Old elephant track
Spread over the tarmac


  1. Anonymous8:06 AM

    it's pretty common in Italian to leave phrases in English that everyone understands, so "sparring partner" is probably just that in Italian. I once spent ten minutes trying to explain a timer to my roommate in Italy so she could tell me the Italian word for it, only to have her say, "ahhhh, uno timer!" they also love to use the word "feeling" (pronounced FEE-LEENG). if I've got a few minutes later I'll look at the lyrics for ya.

  2. here on site 9 you've got the translation!


  3. oh I forgot to post the link sorry :)

  4. Anonymous9:33 PM

    Is the film at all based on Pinter's "Betrayal"?

  5. Looks like comparisons have been made by reviewers, but not sure whether the director meant to reference Pinter.

  6. Anonymous3:39 PM

    Thanks for including the movie poster, which also looks very French. Looks like a Summer's Eve box cover.

  7. Karen9:16 AM

    Interesting ... you've read my mind with your evaluation of this song, the scene, and the movie on this blog ... but dude --- tubular? Haven't heard Valley since high school in the 80's ... most people don't even know what that is anymore

  8. See also 'Via con me'

    "It's wonderful, it's wonderful, good luck my baby..."

  9. I watched this movie about a year ago and I still listen to it every once in awhile. My thought is pretty much everything you said and this is the first time I tried to find the translation (thus found your blog). Paolo Conte makes me want to learn Italian.

  10. When you mentioned sparring partner, I thought you meant karate with all those sparring gear. LOL

  11. Dear Christina,

    You had Describes exactly how I felt and still feel Reference to the song.
    It is SO exciting to know, someone, somewhere in the world, feel just like me:)

  12. Anonymous5:45 PM

    It's incredibly gratifying to know that the combination of this song and film did the same thing to others that it did to me.

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