It's almost deceptive in its simplicity, but director Bouli Lanners' Eldorado (2008) manages to pack quite a lot into its brief 81-minute lifespan. It's equal parts road movie and character-based drama, though a sharp dose of black comedy keeps things interesting along the way. Our central characters are virtually nameless, but Yvan (Lanners, who also served as writer) and Didier (Fabrice Adde) have nonetheless been destined to form a unique bond. Yvan, a restorer of classic American cars, returns home one night to find that his apartment has been burgled. Didier, a recovering drug addict who's seeking money to return home, is hiding under Yvan's bed. Most victims in this situation would seek immediate vengeance, but not Yvan: he takes the troubled young man under his wing, eventually offering him a ride home in his 1979 El Dorado.
We meet a colorful cast of supporting characters along the way, most of which are introduced during unplanned stops. A curious older man with the ability to predict the future. A naked man (named after French actor Alain Delon) who offers directions. Didier's estranged parents. Two men under a bridge. A wounded old dog. All represent segments of the unfolding narrative, revealing subtle clues about our two travelers and their curious bond. It becomes clear soon enough that Yvan sees part of himself in the young man's broken life---and though it becomes abundantly clear later on why he chose to help, we have no problem accepting such a decision at face value. The film's keen use of black comedy gradually fades as our story drifts along, revealing a unique character study that's easy to get lost in. The widescreen frame is used quite well during a number of picturesque and ordinary scenes. A highly appropriate score, though sparse overall, carries several scenes with ease.
Eldorado is more than the sum of its parts, and it's one of the most engaging foreign films I've seen in quite some time; in fact, a more detailed synopsis would spoil most of the film's unexpected and sobering charm. Writer-director Bouli Lanners has crafted a truly unique vision here---and though he's been acting for nearly 20 years, Eldorado is only his second feature-length effort behind the camera. Film Movement's DVD presentation is a basic but serviceable package, blessing this little-known gem with a decent technical presentation but only the bare minimum of bonus features. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen displays, Eldorado looks decent from start to finish. The film's muted color palette is accurate, black levels are generally consistent and image detail is nicely rendered. Digital problems, including edge enhancement and pixellation, don't appear to pose much of a problem. The only nagging issue is a lack of progressive flagging, which creates a modest amount of digital combing during fast-moving scenes. This doesn't ruin the viewing experience entirely, but it certainly keeps Eldorado from achieving a higher score.
The audio presentation is low-key, but it still gets the job done. Presented in a French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix, this dialogue-driven film features a crisp, minimalist soundstage with plenty of silence along the way. The sparse score rarely fights for attention, creating a satisfying atmosphere overall. Optional English subtitles are provided during the main feature, but they're not full-fledged captions: these are for translation purposes only.
Aside from that, it's all unrelated material, including a series of Film Movement trailers, a company mission statement and a promo for sponsor Stella Artois. Also included is a bonus short film entitled Icebergs (directed by Germinal Roaux, 14:08), which revolves around two teenage girls, a stolen cell phone and two trips on the subway. If you're not up on your Swedish street slang, though, you may have trouble keeping up. It's rather nicely shot and presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (with forced English subtitles), though it looks to be ported from a PAL source and suffers from motion blur.
This is certainly a journey off the beaten path, but that's what gives Eldorado its charm: combining a strange and dramatic road adventure with a generous dose of pitch black comedy, director Bouli Lanners' second full-length effort is easy to get lost in. Featuring solid performances, a cast of colorful characters, great music and a decidedly sobering atmosphere, Eldorado is deserving of a wider audience than it's gotten so far. Film Movement's DVD effort is basic but serviceable, pairing a decent technical presentation with a small assortment of bonus features. Mildly curious parties may want to rent this one first, but there's enough here to make Eldorado a worthy addition to your foreign film collection. Mildly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.