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While being locked down, and in a sense locked up, as a friend put it, film-lovers have had recourse to regular TV, YouTube, DVDs, Internet site streaming, and (sigh) Netflix. The latter may be a nefarious monopoly but, like Amazon, it’s also a fantastic resource. I’ve been gratified watching film and series fare, including those with a link to France. The best so far, and by far, is The Eddy, a miniseries which has Paris, great filming (some of the episodes were directed by Damien Chazelle of La La Land fame), and wonderful jazz music to boot.
Watching the series has been a strange, near sci-fi, experience. Of course, we viewers see ourselves as new-normal, with mask, hand gel, Zoom relationships, and elbow fixations. It’s the people in the series who seem weird: Crowding indoors! Kissing and hugging! Singing and shouting within five yards of one another! But now, post-vaccine and post-lockdown, it’s a different story. We’re back to the old normal. Except … how can they gather together without realizing how lucky they are? Kiss and hug without appreciating it? Go to a venue without waiting in line — and loving it? Nothing and nobody is perfect, including the series.
Chazelle films in a cinema verité syle, with a sometimes very mobile camera, that makes you feel that you are with his characters as they enter a jazz caveau or apartment. The colors are saturated as in old Super 8, and he knows how to select his local color scenery. I realize why deprived Francophiles eagerly eat up the postcard cinematography of Emily in Paris and Call My Agent. But I feel glad that someone is finally filming “my” Paris, the urban neighborhoods that are gritty but also pulsing with life.
The Eddy is the name of the caveau de jazz in question. It’s part-owned and operated by Elliot Udo (André Holland), an African American expat who’s also a jazz composer-musician. The double vocation is a nice combo, but unwieldy at times. The business side distracts us from the difficult-to-film depiction of artistic creation, which in turn distracts from the vicissitudes of running a jazz club. The former, aside from being hard to film, can be too introverted and lugubrious for a TV series. The suffering and/or self-destructive artist (as in Round Midnight and Bird) requires the big screen and a director with a compelling vision, which Chazelle, for all his talents, doesn’t seem to have. It’s just as well, as Holland (who starred in Moonlight) excels at his very human, if somewhat middle-brow, character.
The very first episode features not only Elliot but also his business partner, Farid, who’s of North African ancestry. He’s played by the great actor Tahar Rahim (Le Prophete). Both Holland and Rahim together tear up the screen, and are a joy to watch. Farid finds that capital to run the business isn’t forthcoming from the banks, and so turns to loan sharks, who promptly demand their money. A second thread has to do with Maja, a singer and Elliot’s former companion. She still sings at the club, but has apparently lost her mojo, though her “before” voice, I suppose dubbed, sounded beautiful to my ears (this is TV so you know there will be a triumphant “after”). Joanna Kulig plays Maja with world-weary force and depth, and the bittersweet relationship with Elliot poignantly evokes all those couples who go on torturously for one reason or another.
The third strand has to do with Elliot’s daughter coming to visit him from New York. The daughter is engagingly played by Amandla Stenberg, but her role is hopelessly mired in American TV cliché. She’s there to make her father feel guilty, bring tidings from his ex-wife, remind him of a son who died tragically. It’s this sort of “family drama” that made me want to bust down the door and head for the hills, or at least the newly re-opened Parisian cinemas.
The supporting cast creates a web of believable secondary characters, mostly musicians, that gives The Eddy a palpable social texture. It recalls the films of John Cassavetes or even Shirley Clarke. Sometimes the characters emote, other times they’re just a visual presence. Either way the actors (and non-actors) are well directed by Chazelle. The problem is with the dialogue, especially when trying to work out the bilingual dimension. The scriptwriter, Jack Thorne, alternates English and French, often sentence for sentence, but this isn’t how multi-cultural milieus work. Simply put, normally it’s either a stretch of French or English, with a few interjections of the other language. It’s possible that it was written like this because of the British writer’s lack of knowledge of the Parisian scene, but we can’t help feeling it has more to do with TV-product marketing.
Likewise with the plot: the first episode winds up with the partner leaving the scene. He can’t make the payments to the loan sharks and so he takes out the garbage all by himself, very late at night, in a lonely alley, without so much as looking over his shoulder, once too often. This isn’t very realistic — the sharks are eliminating any possibility of repayment — but there are other payoffs. The tragedy makes Maja sing with feeling once again. Elliot’s daughter decides to stick with him after all. And, best of all, the club becomes a huge success when it’s flooded with sympathetic customers. What a great career move! On second thought, maybe the loan sharks were right. But the real reason for this plot development, of course, was that Rahim had contracted for only one episode. This all comes together just right, a nice confection, like the microwaved dessert I made the other day. But that’s also why I’m willing to risk the cinemas and take in some real films once again. See you at the movies!
Production: Augury/One Shoe Films/Endeavor Content
Lead photo credit : The Eddy. (C) YouTube