Monday, July 13, 2009

6-Shooter: Eden Log

Eden Log
Directed by Franck Vestiel
Magnolia Home Entertainment

Leave it to the French to make science fiction moody and existential. Though part of Magnet’s 6-Shooter series of international genre films, Franck Vestiel’s Eden Log is not exactly light popcorn fare, which might explain why it has recently bowed directly on DVD, foregoing theatrical release aside from some festival play. Yet despite its limited budget, Log (trailer here) is one of the most visually distinctive science fiction films in years, and certainly deserves to find an audience.

Log kicks off with truly primordial imagery, as an unnamed man crawls out of the mud and muck into the light. He has no memory of who he is, but he has an irresistible impulse to go in one direction—up. At various points he triggers holographic memory units which give him some clues as to the nature of the subterranean world he finds himself in. It appears to be some kind of highly advanced scientific facility that has suffered substantial damage. There are also mutant monsters prowling around.

Viewers learn Eden Log is the name of this facility from the corporate logo of a tree with its web-like root pattern adorning each level of the labyrinth. Fittingly for a French film, there also seem to have been markedly pronounced class divisions between technicians, workers, and guards that ultimately turned deadly. Apparently, the guards had the upper hand.

Clovis Cornillac (a winner of the French C├ęsar Award and Knight of the Ordre des Arts et Lettres) is quite effective as the taciturn everyman steadily clawing his way up each level of Eden Log, but this is really a film defined by its look. Though technically filmed in color, Vestiel and cinematographer Thierry Pouget employ a palette almost exclusively limited to shades of gun metal gray. Indeed, the darkness is almost oppressive, but Vestiel’s pacing never flags.

For what has been billed as a largely DIY effort, the results are often stunning, thanks to Jean-Philippe Moreaux’s incredible set pieces, which look vaguely Giger-inspired. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Vestiel and Pierre Bordage has a few drawbacks, including a big twist that is a bit ho-hum and an anti-corporate bias that gets to be a bit of a distraction, throwing around loaded terms like “plantation.” Still, the seamlessness of the world they create is remarkable.

Log legitimately qualifies as an almost entirely new cinematic vision. Though its dialogue is not exactly extensive, the DVD release includes both the original French and English language versions. Of course, the real attraction is the remarkable environment Vestiel and his collaborators have created. Those who enjoy more thoughtful genre pictures will likely appreciate the results.