Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Eden Log (France, 2007)

For his first feature-length release, the French long-standing second unit director Franck Vestiel has released a low budget science fiction film that is definitely of the love-it-or-hate-it school. Co-written by Pierre Bordage—whose next project as screenwriter was on another French sci-fi mental mind fuck, Marc Caro’s Dante 01 (2008 / trailer)—Eden Log is a film that really requires more than one viewing to fully comprehend. The question is: does anyone who has managed to sit through the bleak and dank 98 minutes once really want to do so again? (Going by the popular word of mouth the flick has been getting, there are obviously enough people out there that are willing to do so.)
As mentioned, Eden Log is a dank and desolate movie, and to that it is also incredibly dark; more than once it is almost impossible to see what the fuck is going on. But in the occasional flashes of light in the darkness that starts the film, it can be discerned that a naked and mud-covered man (Clovis Cornillac of Maléfique [2002 / trailer] and Poltergay [2006 / trailer]) awakens within the wet, slimy ruins of an underground structure with no memory of who he is, where he is or how he got there. Retrieving a flashlight from a nearby skeletal dead, he begins to explore. He finds a bodysuit—can’t have a sausage swinging for a whole film now, can we?—and then the remnants of deserted labs and stations overgrown with roots. The clues he gains regarding where he is and who he is are revealed to the viewer as he himself gains them, so for most of the film one is as lost as he is. But level by level he goes upwards, dodging or fighting hungry mutants and units of faceless armed guards (though both turn out to be relatively easy to overcome whenever he is forced to confront them). Along the way he has a brief conversation with a man half-engorged by roots, allows a lab botanist to experiment with him, occasionally flips out (during one such rage he rapes the only non-digital woman [Vimala Pons] to appear in the film), slips into unconsciousness whenever the story sort of gets stuck in a situation (he always awakens in a new situation), finds out who he is and the nasty secret of the Eden Log Corporation and, finally, sheds a tear as he... well, see the film if you want to find out.
Franck Vestiel goes overtime in creating a gloomy, end-of-days atmosphere within the clammy ruins of the ruinous underground complex, and the feeling of danger and paranoia is well conveyed. But the film is an incredibly alienating experience, leaving the viewer lost most of the time and then almost angered by the final resolution. OK, the sensual experience conveyed by the film is intentional, so Vestiel gets plus points there, but the structural progression of the plot is definitely flimsy at times and the artsy ending almost too out of the blue to not instigate guffaws of derision. And while it might be forgivable to have the main character pass out and awaken in a new situation once, by the third time the story—and, in turn, the film—can no longer be taken seriously. (This reviewer, for one, was suddenly reminded of the Hardy Boy books, and how often the boys slipped into unconsciousness to stretch the plot—is there one book of the series in which neither of them slips into oblivion at least once?)
Those who see deeper philosophical statements in shades of non-color or convoluted plots and artsy endings will probably find this flick an intellectual masterpiece, but in regards to philosophical intentions or intellectual pondering it is miles away from, say, other not-as-low-budget-but-still-low-budget sci-fi classics such as George Lucas's THX-1138 (1971 / trailer) or Alex Proyas's Dark City (1998 / trailer)—but then, Eden Log is perhaps also far less compromising. As a first film, Eden Log gives the impression of being a highly interesting failure, and as such it makes for mildly interesting but hardly essential viewing. But for that, it also infers—as did Luc Besson’s highly entertaining but even lower budgeted post-apocalyptic debut L'avant dernier / The Last Battle (1981 / trailer)—that the director might yet still produce bigger and better things in the future.

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