Server Room, a new film from Paris-based director duo AB/CD/CD, reflects on an increasingly machine-obsessed and nature-apathetic world. Intoxicating and disorientating, the work is set in an erratic and disjointed environment where, in an attempt to restore balance between computers and living creatures, an AI inadvertently enacts widespread destruction.
Clément Dozier and Camille Dauteuille founded AB/CD/CD back in 2009 with a mutual friend, Arnaud Boutin. “Both Camille and Arnaud were my closest friends,” Clément tells It’s Nice That. “The three of us loved animation, motion design and promos, and we all wanted to become directors at the same time – so we decided to do it together.” Their close bond and shared interests made their union a natural collaboration. "We’d been friends for such a long time and we were very used to doing things together already, so it was a quite obvious decision,” Clément explains on the collective’s beginnings. "Then we basically learned how to be directors together which felt a bit like staring from scratch.”
Focussing solely on film, the pair’s prior experiences are somewhat more eclectic. Between them, with Clément coming from a computer science background and Camille a graphics and multimedia one, the duo have turned their hand to anything from graphic design, music, editorial art direction, websites, 3D animations and even “writing nerdy articles for magazines.” Ultimately, however, it was the depth of film’s emotive and poetic potential that resonated with the creatives the most. “Nothing felt as human and meaningful as film,” Clément explains. “From the moment we started directing, these were much more thrilling goals to achieve.”
A practice that moves seamlessly from music videos and cinematic adverts to innovative personal projects, the thread that unites AB/CD/CD’s sharp and spectacular portfolio is straightforward: “We like to tell simple stories in original ways.” While these stories and their themes change, recently the pair have found themselves returning to the slippery concept of reality and the blurred lines of artificiality in a contemporary world. As Clément goes on to tell us: “It’s a wide subject but we like to play with what’s real and what’s not, what feels real and what feels not."
Server Room presents their latest investigation of these ideas. Through hypnotic speculative snapshots, Clément and Camille urge the viewer to reflect on the consequences of increasingly artificial structures as well as their unknown futures. “We are always picturing the future and dystopia as something far away from us. We believe that this is a mistake,” Clément declares. “We wanted to say the future is now – a truth that our generation is just beginning to realise.”
Borne out of our imminent climate crisis, the film critiques a society obsessed with technology and isolated from the natural world. “The harmony between nature, animals and human beings is broken. We are scared of our place in the ecological environment, we are disorientated,” Clément explains of the projects context. “We are hoping technology can solve our problems, but instead, it removes us from reality.” In Server Room we witness the fallout of an attempt to rebalance an AI with the natural world, which in turn, ends in chaos. “This attempt only produces distortions and monsters,” Clément explains. “Each attempt to ‘watch over’ goes wrong.”
Set to the tune of a hauntingly robotic rendition of Richard Brautigan’s All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, the film twists the poem’s original optimism on its head. Against the backdrop of Server Room’s disturbing imagery, Brautigan’s hopeful visions of “a cybernetic forest filled with pines and electronics where deer stroll peacefully past computers as if they were flowers,” become tinged with a satirical, almost sarcastic tone.
Where Brautigan’s poem envisions a harmonious mutuality between computers and living creatures, Server Room posits a mutually ensured destruction. Human faces melt into monstrous wavelength distortions, stunning mountain valleys are withered into wiry topographic meshes, a thundering waterfall dissipates into oceans of pixelated static. So, as Clément concludes: “We’re not sure there’s a happy ending here.”