A Trip To The Movies: Review – “Eden” 7.4.15

I thought of starting this review out to reflect something I said awhile back in another. I started by saying something to the effect of “it should be by way of some sort of miracle that I happened to stumble upon this film”. And that’s the first thought that entered into my brain after the house lights came on after having seen Mia Hansen-Love’s (the French 34-year old writer/director who’s married to a little known guy by the name of Olivier Assayas) latest film. All I really knew was that it had been selected, screened at, and opened to quite a bit of positive praise at many of this past year’s most prestigious film festivals. That and it touted itself as being THE most quintessential film about the electronic music scene to date.

The film was co-written by writer/director Love’s real life brother, Sven, about his experiences as a successful music DJ/Producer who practically lived through what many electronic music fans would undoubtably agree was the hey day of electronic music, particularly that of the House/Disco scene that was coming out of Europe in the early to mid nineties and lasted for the next 20 years. It revolves around its central character, Paul (Felix de Givry, in what was my first introduction to him as an actor), a late teenager in early nineties Paris, France. Paul and his friends are stuck in a time where the electronic music scene, particularly in Europe, where the music seemed to really be taking off with artists like the Godfathers of House music, Daft Punk (who are featured regularly throughout the film as fictionalized versions of themselves and in the film’s soundtrack). Paul and his friends live, breathe, eat, and sleep electronic music. The scene is going through what some may call a rebirth or revitalization, and Paul and his fellow music friends seem to live for any single chance they can get to attend any of Paris’ many underground electronic events that take place each and every weekend. It’s not long before Paul and one of his fellow electronic music fans start to aspire to be on the other side of the dance floor and become DJ’s themselves. He forms a duo called “Cheers” and their events start to spread throughout Europe via word-of-mouth and ultimately to the States. The film goes on to explore these two decade plus years of Paul and his mates as they go on to become to be internationally recognized figures while also giving us a complete and comprehensive overview of what their experiences were like, the highs and lows, and trials and tribulations of being successful DJ’s at the time when the scene was exploding and experiencing a burgeoning renaissance.

What can I say about this film other than it was nothing short of both incredible and astonishing. As a devoted lover of electronic music this film felt like the ultimate love letter to not only myself, but to legions of fans around the world as it just could possibly be the most accurate and comprehensive look at a pivotal moment in history within the genre. Then there’s the character of Paul (played remarkably by Felix de Givry) who literally grows up before our eyes. From his young days as a late teenager transitioning into adulthood in his twenties, to the 20 year period that followed where he immerses himself into the world of electronic music. At times I got hints of Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” as we follow Paul for on his 2 decade plus journey through the music that runs through every moral fiber of his body. We see how his commitment to his passion affects his family, his continuous failed relationships (one of which is with the great American actress Greta Gerwig, who plays a small but important role in Paul’s life), to his struggles with cocaine addiction. And what becomes an underlying subplot that I personally could relate to in being  so passionate about something that it becomes difficult to break away from it. Change doesn’t come easy for any of us, and in the context of this film, neither does it for Paul. As the world seems to grow and change as time goes by, so do the people around Paul, except his commitment to his love and work doesn’t really  allow for much in terms of personal growth. This was just one in a film that explored a number of many other brilliantly explored subplots. Making Paul’s rise to an internationally renowned DJ/Producer feel like an expert character study of a man that’s so committed and dedicated to his life’s work. That when the party starts to fade away and the scene begins to change, like anything in life, Paul isn’t quite sure how to change along with it. This all bolstered by an excellent soundtrack of House (or as Paul would call it “Garage” music – i.e. House + Disco) music as well as some more contemporary electro tracks. As a music fan overall but especially an electronic music aficionado, this is the best collection of songs put to screen from the genre since Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting” (1997) soundtrack almost two decades ago. Lastly, what I’ll end on saying is this – what I love most about the art of film is when you can see part of yourself mirrored in it and come to a greater understanding about who you really are through the eyes of another director’s lens. And it becomes intimately personal. Then you know you’ve just lay witness to something spectacular. Which is exactly how I felt walking out of this film. The film’s message to me was clear and something that all of us either have or could relate to at some point, which is letting go of the person we saw ourselves as in our youth and accepting the permanent person that we’ve become. It’s a cathartic, self-revelatory, and utterly rewarding experience. And a film that ranks up there with this year’s best right alongside “Ex Machina” which should bode well and wind up as a serious top 5 contender come my end of the year best of list.

[A-]

Weekend Recap (Part 2): The Second Trip To The Movies – “Clouds of Sils Maria” + A New-To-DVD Release – “The Seven Five” (6.7)

Clouds of Sils Maria - Poster

Today marked my fourth movie of the weekend, and the second I ventured out to the theater to see. Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria” had been on my radar since it was picked as the opening night debut film at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and was up for competition as a Palme d’Or nominee. Not only that, but I had seen many of the French director’s previous works: films like “Irma Vep” (1996), “Demonlover” (2002), “Boarding Gate” (2007), and 2010’s epic masterpiece “Carlos” – which was presented in 2 forms: as a cable TV-Miniseries or a shortened 2-part film. Assayas is another in the long list of French directors (Gasper Noe, the Dardennes, and Jacques Audiard) (to name a few) that I anticipate their releases with much enthusiasm as I become more and more familiar with their body of work.

“Clouds of Sils Maria” boasts an incredible female cast with Juliette Binoche (probably the most famous French actress of our time), Kristen Stewart (whose career trajectory post the “Twilight” franchise is showing some serious promise), and Chloe Grace Moretz (of “Let Me In” and the “Kick Ass” movies). It revolves around a famous movie and stage actress (played by Binoche) who is given the opportunity to play a lead part of an older woman in a play that brought her international success when she played the other lead part in the same play of a much younger woman 20 years prior. The playwright unexpectedly dies as she’s in route to give an acceptance speech in his honor. This devastates Binoche’s character as this was a man who she essentially put her on the map and of whom she owes her career to. The playwright’s wife, not being able to stand being in her deceased husband’s house, allows Binoche and her assistant (played by Stewart) to stay at in their beautiful home in the Swiss Alps while she prepares for her upcoming role in the play which she hesitantly agrees to sign onto. Throughout the preparation process for her role she discovers a lot about who she is, finding a number of truths about both herself and the part in which she’s agreed to play.

If my bare bones synopsis of the film doesn’t sound appealing, that don’t be fooled. This was a remarkable film with incredible performances by Binoche (whose performance could earn her a spot on next year’s red carpet if this movie winds up being considered a 2015 release), Kristen Stewart (who has never been better here and is a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actress at next year’s Academy, having already won the Cesar award for the same category at this year’s French Oscars), as well as Chloe Grace Moretz who does her best Lindsay Lohan impression as a young starlet whose private life is tumultuous and widely documented over the internet. Assayas depicts some of the most breathtaking cinematography that I’ve seen in almost any film this year. Further proving why he’s one of the best directors to have come out of France in the past 20 years. As for the story and script, it’s spot on, and both Binoche and Stewart create some great on-screen chemistry as the aging actress and her assistant. Stewart puts in a career best performance here that is equally impressive seeing as how she has to act off of an actress as talented as Binoche. This is a film that has gotten praise from most critics, and deservedly so, that I was glad that I caught in the theater as I found myself both intellectually and emotionally invested in throughout. This should please fans of both more commercial and art house audiences alike. [B+]

Second up was the new-to-VOD crime documentary “The Seven Five”, about the dirtiest cop in NYC history, Michael Dowd. These kinds of documentaries, particularly as of late, having just watched HBO Documentary films like “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” (2015) and “Tales of the Grim Sleeper” (2014) both of which I found utterly fascinating in their depictions of ruthless criminals. A part of me was a bit reluctant going into this one, because to be honest, I’ve seen the dirty cop formula done in a plethora of different feature films like Abel Ferrera (1992) and Werner Herzog’s (2009) “Bad Lieutenant” films. But what got me sold on this one was simply the poster’s tagline – “In 1980’s Brooklyn The Most Notorious Gangsters Were New York City Cops”.

The documentary instantly grabs you from the beginning, when in 1992, New York City police officer Michael Dowd testimony is shown in archival footage as he faces indictment on charges for both racketeering and drug trafficking. The judge asks him a serious of questions of just about every crime that an individual could possibly commit, never mind a police officer, which Dowd says yes and pleads guilty to just about every single one. Flashback 10 years earlier, and we are shown how the young Dowd, not being satisfied with his measly $600 a week paycheck, was allured into getting himself involved in just about every single criminal act of corruption that a police officer could get themselves involved with. He stole money, burglarized homes, held up places where he knew large amounts of money were, etc…to support a lifestyle where he could do just about anything he wanted, bringing in and involving other officers, particularly one by the name of Ken Eurell, who would become his both his police partner and partner in crime as he commits the countless acts of corruption over the ten-year period (1982-1992).

This was another fascinating story of police corruption told through a series of candid interviews mostly focusing on the recently released Dowd (who served 12 years in prison) and his ex-partner Eurell. It’s not only a great examination of police corruption at its highest level but also says a lot about the cop “ethos”, which is to never rat someone out no matter what level of corruption they’re involved in. Cops live by a sort of “moral code” to protect one another and it is talked about and depicted here and brazenly truthful honesty that makes it one of the first documentaries I’ve seen to really delve into and explore this to such an extent. The trajectory and pacing of the film is well done as we’re almost sold on Dowd’s reasons for abusing his power, seeing his climb to greatness, only to see the downfall of his decline. For fans of the crime documentary this is one worth recommending, even if its presentation of the material seems a bit scattered it’s one that’s both compelling and riveting to warrant a recommendation. [B]