[Editor’s note: “Le Choc du Futur” is one of more than 100 movies originally scheduled to screen at the SXSW Film Festival in March. After the coronavirus outbreak forced the festival to cancel, event organizers partnered with Amazon Prime to make seven of those features available to stream for free through Weds., May 6.]
Turn on just about any pop radio station at any point over the last quarter century, and chances are good that the vast majority of the sounds you’ll be hearing were created on machines. Yet on film, representations of musicmaking are still largely stuck in a more analog era. Maybe that’s due to a lingering generational bias, or maybe watching a girl strap on a Les Paul or sit down at a piano is just inherently more cinematic than watching her tapping away at an 808. Whatever the case, French musician Marc Collin’s debut feature “Le Choc du Futur” looks to change all that: This day-in-the-life portrait of a struggling electronic musician circa 1978 is never happier than when it gets to fix a loving, lingering gaze on the drum machines, synths, sequencers and reel-to-reel tapes that crowd its heroine’s apartment.
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For lovers of vintage electronic equipment, Collin’s film offers gear porn of the highest order, with plentiful closeups of all manner of knobs, levers, input jacks and switches as our unassuming protagonist Ana (Alma Jodorowski) fiddles away on a dance track in her Paris apartment. But for those who couldn’t tell you the difference between a Mellotron and a Mu-Tron, this amiably aimless film may prove patience-testing with its languid narrative rhythms, thinly sketched characters and on-the-nose electro evangelism.
Ana — effortlessly cool from the moment she wakes up, lights a cigarette and does a lazy morning workout to Cerrone’s “Supernature” — has been subletting a musician friend’s place for a while, and taking advantage of his home studio as she experiments with new sounds. Most of the film will stay with her in this apartment as she ambles to and fro, smokes weed, deals with various guests — most prominently an oleaginous producer (Philippe Rebbot) who paid her in advance to compose a TV jingle that she has no interest in writing — and tries to find the time to work on her own song.
The film is at its best when it dramatizes the actual process of artistic creation, full of false starts, day-to-day hustling, repetition and constant distractions. What little tension the film manages to generate comes from the countdown to a party Ana is planning to throw that night, where a music executive of some note is slated to attend. Will she finish the track in time? Will he like it? Even within the world of the film, these stakes are perilously low, a loose framework on which to hang Collin’s long shots of the artist at work, with its centerpiece being an unboxing video of Ana’s brand new Roland CR-78 drum machine, which opens up vast new musical possibilities. The music is certainly great, and the enveloping orange-brown color palette grounds the film in its period without leaning too hard on the details.
The problem is that “Le Choc du Futur” is far more interested in the music itself than the people making it. A scene in which a middle-aged hipster drops by to play Ana some records — Throbbing Gristle, Suicide, the Human League, etc. — goes on so long it starts to feel like a dramatized LCD Soundsystem lyric. Ana’s bone-deep, frequently mentioned hatred of rock music is a bit overdone, though it’s nothing compared to a scene where she lays out her fanciful vision of electronic music’s future, and basically describes Daft Punk’s Coachella performance right down to the dancing robots.
Clearly, Collin doesn’t think this period of music gets enough respect, and he’s probably right. But it’s hard to take Ana seriously as a character when she so often seems to be a mouthpiece for obvious-in-hindsight music critic maxims. A closing title card dedicates the film to electronic music’s female pioneers, of which there have been plenty — Wendy Carlos, Delia Derbyshire, Laurie Spiegel — but aside from a few stray condescending comments and casually sexist asides, the film rarely taps into what a struggle that experience must have been. “Le Choc du Futur” builds up a pleasant enough rhythm, but you wait in vain for the beat to finally drop.
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