Review: “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets” harrowing, unforgettable; “Eden” an unengaging DJ tale

In 2012, 17-year-old Jordan Davis was killed because his music was too loud.
In 2012, 17-year-old Jordan Davis was killed because his music was too loud.
In 2012, 17-year-old Jordan Davis was killed because his music was too loud.
In 2012, 17-year-old Jordan Davis was killed because his music was too loud.

The maddening, saddening documentary 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets was already timely, even before the murder of the nine people during Bible study in Charleston last month. Now it’s even more so. In the ever-lengthening list of unarmed black people shot to death by whites (a long list, even considering just the ones who grab media attention), it’s easy to forget or mix up the names: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Walter Scott. And don’t forget Jordan Davis.

Davis was the well-liked, middle-class 17-year-old high schooler, killed by some of the 10 bullets shot through the side of the car he was in with three of his friends in Jacksonville, Florida, the day after Thanksgiving in 2012. While parked at a gas station, software developer Michael Dunn pulled into the spot adjacent to the friends’ SUV, and complained about the loud rap the kids were playing on the car stereo. 

He said he felt threatened by the boys, and claimed Davis waved a lead pipe or a gun or some other never-found weapon at him. The incident became known as the “loud-music murder,” and another test of Florida’s reckless stand-your-ground law. 

3½ Minutes won the Special Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. There’s nothing especially innovative here, stylistically or structurally, but director Marc Silver provides a model of clarity through editing. The witnesses and ultimately defendant Dunn (a frankly unlikable, arrogant-seeming guy) are filmed giving their courtroom testimony. Their words and perspectives are woven together in a comprehensive, compelling reconstruction of what happened, and what didn’t.

The movie gains unexpected dramatic force when one witness for the defense becomes a secret weapon for the prosecution when she refuses, in a voice you can barely hear, to lie about what happened that night. It’s a heartbreaking and hope-bringing turning point. Outside the courtroom, Davis’s polite, well-spoken friends recall the young man in affectionate, sometimes mocking terms. (They make much of his lax skills on the basketball court.) And Davis’ parents, who will be attending Atlanta screenings this weekend (see note below) remind us of the depth of grief the death of a child can bring. 

3½ Minutes is an eye-opening documentary. Well, for some anyway. At the very end, we hear Dunn, on a phone call from prison, claiming, “I’m the [bleeping] victim here.” Justice may have been served, but it didn’t open his eyes, or heart, one bit. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kh0pQ2UyovQ

Also out now, the French film Eden follows the rise and fall of a young Parisian DJ over two decades, starting in 1992. It’s as ambitious as it is artfully, intentionally frustrating. Director Mia Hansen-Løve, working from a screenplay she wrote with her brother, skims through the years, introducing us first to Paul (Félix de Givry) as a high school lad emerging with other young people from a foggy forest at dawn, following an all-night rave. It’s a lovely image that defines the group as a tribe apart.

Skipping ahead a few years, Paul is trying to make his way in Paris as half of a DJ’ing duo, with his friend Stan (Hugo Conzelmann), who ironically call themselves Cheers (using the retro logo from the TV series). Eden follows them from one club date to the next, interspersing these heaving crowd scenes with snapshots of Paul’s wobbly romantic life with a number of women, played by Greta Gerwig, Pauline Etienne and Golshifteh Farahani, among others.

The most important female here, though, is Arsinée Khanjian, playing Paul’s no-nonsense mother, who unhappily bails her son out of financial binds even when he’s well into his 30s. 

EDEN-Photo7The Hansen-Løves’ script makes the conscious decision to omit most traditional dramatic tropes and scenes. We’re usually thrown into the middle of things, which is probably the point: Life happens around you, while you’re busy with your preoccupation (in Paul’s case, music). There’s a downside to this, though. The movie doesn’t engage you emotionally.  

It doesn’t help that lead actor de Givry is largely a washout. He’s a handsome but uninflected blank who hits his marks and wanders through the scenes like someone who is simply doing what the director instructs. There was a similar miscasting of the female lead in Hansen-Løve’s 2011 Goodbye First Love, which weakened an otherwise good film.

Probably the overriding problem I had with Eden is personal, so factor that into my response to it. I just don’t care for this kind of music and its impersonal, product-for-the-masses feel (not to mention the prevalent party-drug use that comes with the scene). 

At times, the movie feels like you’re being dragged out unwillingly by friends to a long night of dancing and substance abuse. You resist, then submit, then enjoy parts of it… but you’re still ready to return the world and your home long before the night is over. 

3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets. A documentary directed by Marc Silver. Unrated. 85 minutes. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. 

On Friday July 3, Jordan Davis’s father, Ron Davis, CEO/President of the Jordan Davis Foundation, will be on hand for an audience Q&A following the 5:10 p.m. screening. Jordan Davis’s mother, Lucia McBath, national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, will be on hand for a Q&A following the July 3 7:45 p.m. screening, and also July 4 and 5 following the 2:40 and 5:10 p.m. screenings. 

Eden. With Félix de Givry, Pauline Etienne, Arsinée Khanjian, Golshifteh Farahani. Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve. Rated R. 131 minutes. In French with subtitles. At the Tara. 

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