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Robots with a human side

French duo Daft Punk admits its directorial debut, `Electroma,' isn't for everyone.

June 28, 2007|Margaret Wappler | Times Staff Writer

DAFT PUNK, the Paris-born dance-music duo, is obsessed with robots. Not just any old heaps of metal that will vacuum floors but high-fashion, house-music-loving robots who move with silky, metronomic timing in mod helmets, black leather pants and jackets with "Daft Punk" emblazoned on the back in rhinestones.

Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have been appearing in concert and the occasional on-camera interview as these robots since their 2001 album, "Discovery," the follow-up to their landmark debut, "Homework." Last year Daft Punk brought the robots on screen in its directorial debut, "Electroma," which will be shown at midnight Friday at the New Beverly Cinema and will be available on DVD this fall.

For live shows, Daft Punk's automaton alter egos are a blank screen ready for projection, a perfectly vacuous counterpoint to the precise fury of their club anthems.

"When we come on stage as robots, it's really powerful," De Homem-Christo said from Paris. "We're not idols onstage. We're not the Rolling Stones.... The audience gets very touched by the idea that it's robots playing this emotional, energetic music."

In "Electroma," it's not Bangalter and De Homem-Christo inside those apocalypse-cool outfits.

Instead, Daft Punk stayed behind the camera for the richly visual, dream-paced feature about two robots on a quest to become human. Bangalter, who lives in L.A. with actress Elodie Bouchez, served as director of photography while De Homem-Christo checked his shots from the monitor.

With zero dialogue and none of Daft Punk's own propulsive beats, "Electroma" has been met with some ire by critics and fans expecting one of the group's high-energy music videos, such as the Michel Gondry-directed "Around the World" or Spike Jonze's "Da Funk." Most of the audience walked out during the movie's screening at last year's Directors' Fortnight, a sidebar of the Cannes Film Festival.

De Homem-Christo isn't bothered by the reaction. "We wanted to make a different kind of movie, one that would leave more question marks than answers," he said. "With American blockbuster cinema, everything is very fast, there's a lot of action and narration.... Here, there are all these gaps the audience can fill."

De Homem-Christo and Bangalter also wanted the robots to remain mysterious. Without dialogue, body language -- along with the music from Todd Rundgren, Brian Eno and some dusty tracks from the '70s -- can take on heightened meaning.

Inspired by "2001: A Space Odyssey" and George Lucas' early sci-fi outing "THX 1138," "Electroma" is intended as a showcase for Daft Punk's eye for juxtaposition and the fetishistic appeal of objects. The robots drive through the sun-cooked terrain of Inyo County in a 1987 Ferrari 412. The black-and-chrome slab of Italian design "has its own persona and character, like K.I.T.T. from 'Knight Rider,' " De Homem-Christo said. In one of the movie's visual punch lines, the California license plates read "Human."

"Electroma" isn't the first time the French musicians have worked with film. In addition to directing some of their music videos, they co-wrote and -produced the 2003 anime film "Interstella 5555," which follows an interstellar pop band on the run. "Discovery" is the film's soundtrack.

For "Electroma," the duo wanted to get away from preconceived notions about Daft Punk -- with one notable exception: the robots, whom De Christo-Homem thinks get an unfair rep. "There's this idea that robots are not human, so they are cold," he said. "But it's not really the case. They can be anything you want them to be."

margaret.wappler@latimes.com

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`Electroma'

When: Midnight Friday

Where: New Beverly Cinema, 7165 W. Beverly Blvd., L.A.

Price: $5

Info: (323) 938-4038, www.newbevcinema.com

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