REVIEW: Eden Log [2007]

“What I need is to get out of here”

So, the genre is called Cyberpunk. Can’t say I have heard the term before, but I can definitely see how it applies to the horror/science fiction film I just experienced called Eden Log. The first film from French director Franck Vestiel, it creates a world of heightened technology with a muted palette and cold, steely environments. One could say that we are watching our amnesiac “hero” Tolbiac maneuvering through a computer itself. The genre seems to be a French creation, not only because of this entry, but also because of films like Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element and Jeunet/Caro’s City of Lost Children, (funnily enough, that last one is the only one shot in the native language). I would almost put Proyas Dark City into the category as well with its underground council of authority and futuristic gadgets that still make it hard to quite grasp a specific time period.

What those three films had, however, that Eden Log unfortunately does not, is a coherent and easy to follow storyline. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but despite impressive art direction and a tenuous grasp at relaying the moral ambiguity of technological advancement, I never could find my way into the movie itself. Instead I was always an outside viewer, basking in the grimy beauty of it all, constantly wondering if that was enough to keep me invested. My mind kept wandering, working overtime to comprehend one shred of plot besides the tidbits discovered by our lead man, who was just as confused as me. Why is he there? Where is he? What is going on? It is so ambiguous and thought-provoking that the first thing I did upon its completion was go to Wikipedia to see if anyone had posted some semblance of a summary. There is one to read, and it is pretty much what I had been thinking, however, it also does a good job of connecting the dots and showing the bigger picture, something I’m grateful to the author for doing.

We are thrust into an underground world—just as Clovis Cornillac’s Tolbiac is when he wakes up in the mud without knowing who he is or how he arrived there. Kudos to Cornillac, by the way, for giving pretty much the only good performance in the film. I liked Vimala Pons’ botanist as well, but, besides those two, the line deliveries are quite atrocious and sadly take the audience away from this fully realized world, and that’s a real shame. Tolbiac begins to wander around as though a newborn, trying different things, feeling his way through the tunnels and machinery along his way. He discovers a dead body beside him and a contingent of security soldiers, on the lookout for someone, with what appears to be chained, mutated humans as attack dogs. We follow his journey as he stumbles upon more dead scientists with embedded memories that project onto the walls; facts about the facility they are in, Eden Log, a power plant of sorts that utilizes a giant tree for the energy powering their cities; and the multitude of this structure’s levels, what each contain, as well as strange cube compartments that appear to be trapping people inside. It is all quite the head scratcher, but then it is for him as well.

Only when Pons arrives to save Cornillac from the mutants does the story start to make some sense. She is one of the workers that have been promised a place above ground for her service once her work is done. They are slaves to the system, doing what they are told for the greater good, caring for the tree of life so that it may sustain their own when the cycle advances to a new set of workers while they bask in the glory of civilization. She suspects Tolbiac is a worker as well, on his way to being changed into one of the beasts roaming the cavernous expanse. Surprising to her, however, is that instead of the tree’s energy-filled sap taking over his body like a steroid on steroids, it is his body that appears to make the plant flourish. Quite the reversal and one more mystery to this man who seems to be stronger than anyone else involved, yet completely oblivious to the role he has been or must continue to play. It is towards the end when the answers are made clear, the true source of the energy is revealed, the true fate of the workers discovered, and the cycle itself brought out into the open with an animated diagram shown on the wall of the plant’s surface level. There are lies and deceptions at work, moral quandaries of what is going on manifest as Tolbiac slowly discovers who he really is.

All of that is almost inconsequential, though. The characters themselves are sterile like their environment, never appearing to be real or people an audience can relate to. They are all animals chained to the system like the beasts chained up, the creatures they will become once infected by the saps’ toxin. Each role becomes a part of the scenery, pushing you away from entering the action, creating a chasm between audience and subject, not something a film should be trying to do. But that detachment isn’t all bad, because you will be able to focus on the backgrounds and the props and the metallic detail that goes into each frame. By focusing so little on comprehending the motivations of the characters, it is the silent moments that are remembered, the world itself rather than what is keeping it sustained. I love the boldness of Vestiel for having a vision and sticking to it, I love the science fiction aspects that recall videogame environments seeming to be a world of the past just as easily as the future. Without any actual objects to give a sense of time, the piece becomes timeless, a future never reached. Unfortunately, the aesthetic isn’t enough to achieve success here. It makes the experience memorable, if only for its startling visuals that mask its completely indecipherable plot. The makings for greatness are there; hopefully Vestiel hones his skill and continues to evolve.

Eden Log 5/10 | ★ ★

photography:
Courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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