Gone are the sun-kissed palm trees and upbeat dances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. In this eight-episode series, French-American filmmaker Damien Chazelle has swapped Hollywood for the 12th arrondissement of Paris – a far cry from the Caveau de la Huchette and the legendary jazz clubs of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Audiences follow African-American pianist Elliot Udo (André Holland, seen in Selma and Moonlight), the washed-up star of New York label Blue Note, struggling to manage a jazz club, The Eddy, with his Arab friend Farid (Tahar Rahim, seen in A Prophet by Jacques Audiard).
Whether on stage or behind the scenes, everything is falling apart. The musicians in the house band are at each other’s throats, the singer misses a show, Elliot suddenly finds himself looking after his teenage daughter who arrives from New York, and the club is being extorted by thugs. Chazelle is a learned director, drawing on the cinéma vérité style of the 1960s and dramas by John Cassavetes to film Paris today with its projects and gentrified neighborhoods. The miniseries is partly shot on 16-millimeter film (a first for Netflix) with rapid camera movements by Eric Gautier, who has worked with Olivier Assayas and Arnaud Desplechin.
Music is, of course, Chazelle’s other passion. Back in 2014, in Whiplash, he set a white-knuckle duel between a young drummer and his teacher to the sounds of jazz percussions. Playing an invisible yet palpable character in the series, the compositions by Glen Ballard – a six-time Grammy Award winner renowned for his work with Michael Jackson and Alanis Morissette – envelop every interaction. His pieces were entrusted to American jazzmen Josiah Woodson and Robby Marshall, recruited in Paris to play their own roles, and performed live on set. This approach is reminiscent of the excellent U.S. series Treme, which combines actors and local musicians to depict the reconstruction of New Orleans after Katrina.
There is jazz in The Eddy, naturally, bebop in tribute to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie, and a few more modern references to pianist Keith Jarrett. But there is also jazz interspersed with rap. In the projects, the younger, tracksuit-wearing generation is writing the French future of this musical genre imported from the United States. “This isn’t just a passion for the elderly,” said Chazelle in a Vanity Fair interview during filming. “There are young people in Paris who go to jazz clubs and who want to make this music evolve.”
Article published in the May 2020 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.