Daft Punk is a band that has always had a visual component. They almost always perform in costume, and almost always with some sort of mask. They’ve done a lot of thinking about appearances, from costume design to production design to cinematography. They’ve worked with Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry on music videos, to great effect.
Daft Punk’s Electroma (with no dialogue, but with music, but not from Daft Punk) tells the story of two robots — Daft Punk (played by two actors who are not Daft Punk) — who long to be human. They try one alteration to make themselves more human, but it fails, which terminally depresses them.
That’s the entire story. You could watch the 70-some-odd-minute movie to get the story, or you could literally watch it at 20x speed and not miss any key plot points — a trick it took me 4 minutes to verify. You do lose a little nuance from the pacing at 20x. Since both robots have plastic helmets instead of faces, all “expression” comes from body language and the angle of the head. That gets lost at high-speed, as does the careful use of reaction shots (credit editor/co-writer Cédric Hervet with most of the emotion in this movie).
There is more to the movie than the plot... but not much. There are some surprising moments. One set is particularly stark, and the first time you see it you aren’t sure how to visually read it, like an optical illusion. The heroes’ attempt to become more human is funny, once you understand it, and the way it fails is both surprising and very visual.
This film involves a lot of shots of the robots walking. You might say that the film is about the way in which Daft Punk walk. Depending on what you’ve read in your lifetime, that may inspire thoughts like these: Walking is universal. In walking is thinking. Walking is what sparked hominids to evolve from apes.
But to say that Electroma deserves credit for those deeper thoughts requires a lot of goodwill on the part of the viewer.
But Is It Art?
Although there are artists who make purely visual pieces — from the avant garde like the late Stan Brakhage to the nearly-mainstream like Godfrey Reggio, Daft Punk aren’t operating at quite that level.
Electroma has some amazing visuals. It has footage of the American West taken from dollies and cranes shooting on deserted highways and deserts. The costumes and sets are striking. And there are some gorgeous shots of small figures walking across the frame or disappearing into the distance. Having shot film and video myself, I know how great-looking those techniques can be. I also know that they alone don’t make a good movie.
If I were a bigger fan of Daft Punk, more patient, and more impressed by style without substance, I would have liked Daft Punk’s Electroma a lot more.
As it is, I found it tolerable; I even really liked a few of the film’s more surprising moments. But it’s just too dry to make up for that deadening pace. If only my four-minute experiment had proven a failure, I might have understood why they needed 80. Maybe 8 minutes would have been a suitable compromise.