- Eden Log
The film begins in darkness. Water drips into water. We hear ragged breaths. Flashes of light reveal a man (Clovis Cornillac), caked in mud, waking, staggering to his feet. Later – much later – we (and he) will learn his name is Tolbiac, but for now he has no idea who or where he is. He finds a torch on a nearby corpse and in its intermittent light creeps, crawls and climbs up out of this cave into the lower levels of a seemingly derelict industrial complex. Cables and roots, difficult to distinguish, hang from the ceiling, industrial detritus devolving into, merging with, the subterranean-organic. On the wall behind him, a half-seen diagram describes a process which seems to involve humans descending below ground and then later ascending. He presses through heavy turnstiles and is greeted by projections of half a dozen women, immaculately clothed and coiffed, who address him in multiple languages. In the ominously bland idiolect of a corporate shill, one of them states, 'The contract is fair. It is thanks to your work below that you will build your paradise above. Look after the plant and it will look after you.'
This pun on plant, which works in French as well as in English, opens up one of the several fields of ambiguity in which this often-elliptical film nestles. The plant is both a miraculous tree of vast proportions, its roots reaching far underground, and the industrial complex which extracts sap with 'infinite energetic properties' from the tree so as to power a city. As Tolbiac ascends through underground levels – a trajectory that materialises the vertical integration upon which the Eden Log corporation's gradually unveiled monopoly depends – he encounters various others from whom he begins to piece together the world and its story. One man, suspended from a wall, claims to have brought down the system, but it is not entirely clear where he ends and the plant (in either sense) begins. Tolbiac triggers a recording of the final confrontation between the technicians and the guards: when faced with an information leak over their corporate malfeasance, the nature and extent of which will only later become clear(er), Eden Log overrode all protocols about the relative autonomy of the subterranean levels and sent in guards to destroy the evidence and eradicate the threat.
The plant has been responding to its escalating exploitation by releasing a toxin that mutates the workers into strange, no-longer-human creatures. [End Page 157] Tolbiac's struggle against transformation wavers when he finds an uninfected woman (Vimala Pons) and, suddenly less-than-human, rapes her. He is appalled by what he has done and what he is becoming. She elects to accompany him up to the surface, not knowing that he has infected her. Eventually, having pieced together most of the puzzle, Tolbiac is recognised – and, at last, named – by the guards he used to command. Pretending to be himself, he cons his way past the guards and plugs himself into the plant, which has always been sterile, infecting it with life. It erupts, shattering the dome that contained it, and expands to take over the deserted city, transforming it into a beautiful – and colour-filled – landscape.
Eden Log actually begins not in darkness but with a quotation: 'Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken' (Genesis 3:23). Tolbiac's initial emergence from the mud might be taken as a reworking of the creation of Adam in The Bible: In The Beginning… (Huston US/Italy 1966), in which Vestiel replaces John Huston's achingly tasteful (and hence campy) representation of an inspirited wind blowing aside yellow sand to reveal the first man with birthing imagery that is rather more faecal, fluid and feminine. It is certainly a film that invites psychoanalytical readings: its setting recalls the maternal interiors of Alien (Scott UK/US 1979) and the rape carries strong overtones of a primal scene fantasy, while Tolbiac's ascent into realms of language and control...