Daft Punk's Electroma

Daft Punk's Electroma


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Pop music and film make uncomfortable bedfellows. Despite the fact that virtually every new release now comes with a video and there are a plethora of live concert DVDs to burn a hole in Fifty Quid Man’s pocket, ‘proper’ full-length movies successfully capturing a band’s raw energy or the aural sugar rush of a great album are few and far between.

Gimme Shelter and Quadrophenia are islands in a sea of half-baked mediocrity and wilful ‘artiness’. Even a diehard Who fan would admit Tommy is a bit of a mess, and The Song Remains The Same is best appreciated under the influence of... well, anything, really.

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So it’s disappointing to report that Daft Punk’s entry into the feature-length field is a dull, pretentious dog’s breakfast. Not only because it’s such a sparsely-populated genre but because the French avant-dance duo’s live shows have always been a feast for the eye as much as the ear.

Their video work has attracted helmers like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, and in 2003 Japanese anime master Leiji Matsumoto supervised an animated movie Interstella 5555 based on their Discovery album. So maybe all they really wanted to do was direct. But it’s telling that Electroma, like Interestella, has no dialogue. Clearly the image is the thing for these boys, but even over a slender running time it soon becomes clear that’s no substitute for things such as plot and character.

It opens with two robots, Gold Helmet (Reich) and Silver Helmet (Hurteau) driving through the California desert in a Ferrari. They do this for a very long time. Then, as even the most chin-stroking cineaste will surely be pleading for something to actually happen, they come to a town. All the inhabitants are robots (conformity - geddit?) but they dress like ordinary people, unlike the black leather-suited duo (dead ringers for Daft Punk’s onstage alter-egos), and instantly the interlopers find themselves being stared at (alienation - geddit?). This goes on for a very long time too, but eventually they arrive at a clinic where robot surgeons begin to apply latex to them in order to make them look human.

This scene is, admittedly, visually arresting – the white-clad surgeons literally disappear into the background of the operating theatre as they begin their work - but it gets, like, really meaningful again when the robots emerge and we realise that their human masks are distorted carnival puppet affairs. So they’re neither human nor robot, but the townsandroids still react to them with fear and hate and form a mob to persecute them for being different. Did no one think to tell the Daft Boys how sixth form all this is?

Unfortunately, our ‘heroes’ escape, so the film has to go on for the best part of another hour. They hide in a toilet, scrape the latex off (one more reluctantly than the other) and escape into the desert. They seem to have forgotten about their Ferrari and I really wish they’d remembered. For what ensues is a section that makes all that’s gone before seem like a Michael Bay money shot. Kevin Smith may have jokingly described the Lord of the Rings as “nine hours of walking” in Clerks II, but here you get just that.

Of course, it’s not nine hours, it just feels like it. They really do do nothing but walk. Across the desert. For a long time. In one shot they walk slowly towards the camera. In another they walk slowly away from it. A third shot starts with an empty frame and they walk slowly across and out of it. This is all no doubt a radical deconstruction of conventional narrative assumptions and cinematic codes. It’s also very boring.

Eventually one of the robots begins to get a bit suicidal (I don’t blame him) and... but I won’t spoil the ending. If all the above hasn’t put you off and this is the kind of thing you’re into, check it out by all means and I hope you enjoy it more than I did. There are some striking visual images, and the music (none of it by the duo themselves, strangely enough) is an arresting, eclectic mix of ambient, West coast rock, classical and some superfine Curtis Mayfield.

The Daftsters’ career will no doubt survive diversions like this (and I yield to no-one in admiration of their music, by the way). It’ll probably end up as a set text on some media studies course, too. But the plain fact is that this could have made a fun, quirky five-minute video or a slightly stretched short. Trying to pad it out to a feature-length format only exposes how painfully thin the central premise is. At least The Song Remains The Same had a swordfight in it...

Reviewed on: 03 Aug 2007
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Daft Punk's Electroma packshot
Two robots' quest to become human.
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Director: Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo

Writer: Bangalter, Homem-Christo, Cedric Hervet, Paul Hahn

Starring: Peter Hurteau, Michael Reich

Year: 2007

Runtime: 73 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


CFF 2007

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